Blackhawks to salute Evergreen Park Marine
BY MATTHEW BRUCE Correspondent January 11, 2012 9:42PM
Lance Corporal Luis Ocasio with an Iraqi youth while on patrol. Supplied photo
Updated: February 13, 2012 9:20AM
An explosion in which Marine Lance Cpl. Luis Ocasio suffered a traumatic brain injury while he was serving in Iraq also left him with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Evergreen Park man is prone to anxiety attacks when he’s around large crowds, but he said he’ll do his best to ignore all that Thursday night when he is honored by the Chicago Blackhawks.
Ocasio, who served a pair of two-year tours in Iraq, will be at center ice before the game against the Minnesota Wild at the United Center, flanking Jim Cornelison as the latter sings the national anthem just before the puck drops.
“That’s going to be kind of cool. I’ve never been the center of attention for anything,” Ocasio said. “I was always in the backdrop, just do my job and that’s it. So it’ll be kind of cool to go to the game and experience that.”
As part of the tradition connected with Cornelison’s powerful rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” a veteran and an active-duty member of the U.S. Armed Forces appears with him at center ice.
Ocasio said he got a call about a month ago from the United Services Organization of Illinois, which has coordinated the appearances since 2010. He also got a second ticket to the game and said he plans to take his daughter Taige, 11.
“She’s ecstatic to go,” Ocasio said. “She already has her little jersey ready to wear to the game and everything. We’re not going to understand the hockey game, but we’re going to have fun.”
The break is well-deserved, as his family has had its share of adversity.
Ocasio suffered his traumatic brain injury during his first tour in Iraq, when a mortar exploded above his head. In 2008, after suffering from chronic headaches and seizures, Ocasio was diagnosed with PTSD, which he said affects his everyday life.
“I can’t really enjoy doing things like I used to,” he said. “Just today, I went to the store with my friend and I had to run in and out. I can’t really stay in a crowded store for such a long time, or I start getting nervous.”
On top of that, Ocasio’s wife was hospitalized with cancer last year and had to undergo two surgeries. Already hurting financially as well, Ocasio then learned his home needed a new furnace.
But his wife has recovered and returned to work, and some financial help came from “Heat for Heroes,” a program sponsored by the Mechanical Contractors Association of Chicago in partnership with Pipefitters Local 597. The two organizations donate time and materials to repair the home heating and cooling systems of military personnel.
A Bridgeview company replaced Ocasio’s furnace and repaired his central air-conditioning system, performing more than $5,000 worth of work for free.
“I’m really appreciative. I’m more than glad to spread the word about Heat for Heroes to others. That’s what we’re here for, to help each other out, right?” Ocasio said. “We were so messed up financially, it took me a while to bounce back from everything.”
Now, Ocasio and his daughter can concentrate on enjoying Thursday’s game. It will be his daughter’s first time attending a Chicago sports team’s game.