Richard Fouhy: Discovers A New Career
Passion for his work in manufacturing has always been one constant that has literally given disabled veteran Richard Fouhy the will to live.
Richard was drafted in the Army in 1968 and served one year in Vietnam before discharging from service in 1971. While serving in Vietnam, he was exposed to Agent Orange, and in 2000, doctors told him that not only would he need a full liver transplant as a result of that exposure, but that he also had only two to four years to live. Having survived Lymphoma nearly a decade earlier, Richard would not accept the doctor’s grim prognosis.
“At the time, I looked the doctor straight in the eye and told him that I would outlive him,” Richard says.
In 2006, just months after recovering from the liver transplant, Richard was driving with his granddaughter in the car when they were struck head-on. While both he and his granddaughter survived, Richard came away with 37 broken bones. After undergoing 19 surgeries to save his leg, Richard requested that doctors amputate it so that he could go on with his life.
But a month after the amputation, Richard fell at work and broke his hip, a problem that one year later became so chronic that it required a total hip replacement.
Yet even despite those health challenges – even the least of which would cause many to doubt reentering the workforce – Richard was still determined to continue his life’s passions through his work. Richard continued running his two businesses manufacturing aerospace and aftermarket motorcycle parts – even from his hospital bed.
“I was blessed to have owned my own businesses so I could continue working and doing everything I needed to do from my hospital bed,” he says.
In 2009, after selling those businesses and moving into a partial retirement, Richard continued operating a small vending business on a part-time basis to keep him active. He also began volunteering for the summer sports clinic at the San Diego VA Medical Center.
Still, the partial retirement was not helping Richard satisfy his active and creative lifestyle. In 2010, while competing at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Denver, Richard met a fellow participant who put him in touch with Joan Haskins, a counselor with Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Operation PAVE (Paving Access to Veterans Employment) program.
Aside from setting Richard up with job leads, sending him to job fairs and helped with paperwork, Joan helped put Richard in touch with a contact who was purchasing a racing safety equipment company in Indianapolis. After traveling to the city to learn about the job, Richard decided to move to pursue the new career as an assistant general manager/operations manager at Impact Safety.
“I was an aerospace engineer, so I had no background in racing or safety equipment,” he says. “But me coming in with no background has been a great thing for this company.”
Richard’s work with Operation PAVE has not stopped. Despite enjoying the opportunity to have learned and worked in a new field, he still longs to be back in San Diego with his wife, children and grandchildren. But now, at age 63, he says he is still too young to retire.
“My goal is to be able to work until I’m 70,” he says. “It has been so challenging jumping into a whole new profession, but I’ve got those creative juices flowing again. I’d like to try something totally new again.”
Richard continues to work with Joan at Operation PAVE in hopes of finding a new career in management. Of most interest, he says, would be a career at the VA. Having volunteered at the VA and participated in a surfing trip with other disabled veterans in 2011, Richard says his greatest goal in finishing out his career would be giving back to his fellow veterans.
Richard’s story and indomitable spirit are undoubtedly an inspiration to all. Most of all, he emphasizes to all veterans – whether injured or on the transition path from the battlefield into civilian life – to not give up hope.
“No matter how low you get emotionally, there is a bright side and a way out,” he says. “Keep your mind on recovery and getting the most out of life that you can. Set small goals at first and increase them as you go. We as veterans have a great team behind us in the form of Paralyzed Veterans of America and the VA. Use their resources as I have, and they will help you all the way.”
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.