A Dog Called Hope by Damien Lewis and Jason Morgan
I finished the call with Peter Safran feeling like I was on cloud nine. Peter runs The Safran Company, producers of the movies The Choice and Dark Places. He’d just read my book, A Dog Called Hope, or rather he’d read the manuscript, as this was months prior to publication.
‘Your story kept me up the whole night,’ Peter said. ‘I sat down to breakfast with my wife having finished it, and just started talking to her all about the scenes we had to film.’
Wow. My life story - and that of my heroic service dog Napal - being featured on the big screen: if anyone had ever said that might happen, I’d have told them to zip it. Things like that don’t happen in real life, do they?
Well, as a matter of fact they do. Fast track many months from there, and as my book - co-authored with British writer Damien Lewis - publishes, The Safran Company have got a top team working on the movie adaption.
So just what was it that had so grabbed Peter’s attention?
Two decades back I’d parachuted into the Central American jungle on an anti-narcotics mission, serving with American Special Forces unit the SOAR. Weeks later I came back to consciousness in hospital, having spent months in a coma and having no memory of what had happened.
The first words I heard were my surgeon telling me that I was paralyzed and would never walk again. My response was: ‘Sir, I will walk again. Yes I will.’
I’d suffered horrific injuries - a broken back, collapsed lungs. My life had been balanced on a knife-edge. I left hospital wheelchair-bound, with a wife and three infant boys to care for. The one stubborn hope that kept me going was that I would walk again.
My folks found out about an innovative nerve-graft surgery. Trouble was, the surgeon happened to operate out of the very Central American country that had almost killed me. But any risk was worth it, if it offered hope.
I headed out there with my brave mom. She’s as “tough as bulls knees”, as we say in Texas. Post surgery, I experienced a miracle: I could move my hips and had feeling in my legs. I also had a special visitor at the hospital: Steve Sutherland, the guy who’d discovered me face down in the jungle swamp, terribly injured.
Steve had saved my life, and talking to him triggered the memories. They started bleeding back through to me in my dreams and my nightmares.
Back in the US I defied my doctors by taking my first few steps. But I was about to be dealt the cruelest blow. The pain from my injuries was so severe that my moods became dark. I guess my wife found it unbearable. Either way, she left me. Overnight, I became the wheelchair-bound father with three infant boys to raise.
But with every curse there comes a blessing. When things were at their lowest ebb, a new family member joined us, one that would turn our lives around. I applied for a Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) service dog - one trained to assist a wounded warrior such as myself.
That was how wonderful two-year-old black Labrador Napal came into our lives. Getting Napal was truly a miracle. It gave me back the will to live. Crucially, Napal gave my boys and me back our hope - hence the title of my book: A Dog Called Hope.
Funny, inspirational and loving Napal was to be my bridge to able-bodied ‘normal’ humanity. It’s an uplifting tale of how Napal enabled me to triumph over adversity, and of forging a unique closeness between one man and his dog. And as I go on to complete a full marathon, it’s a tale that will inspire and amaze.
A Dog Called Hope is available in hardback now.