ELLENTON -- Donna Decker will be on a plane to Texas on Thursday, a flight that fills the 58-year-old grandmother with conflicting feelings of faith and disbelief.
Faith that her son, Ryan Shifflett, hospitalized at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research Burn Center in San Antonio, will be whole again.
Disbelief that the 35-year-old combat engineer and married father of two is another U.S. casualty from the war in Afghanistan.
"It's hard for me to say these words -- but he should be dead," said Decker, a Taylor Morrison Homes design consultant. "I just thank God he's alive."
A 17-year Army veteran and native of Fullerton, Calif., Shifflett was seriously injured late last week from the explosion of a suicide bomber's truck at an entrance to Forward Operating Base Pasab in Kandahar.
He suffered third-degree burns over 30 percent of his body as well as severe injuries from shrapnel.
It was Shifflett's fourth combat tour, his second in Afghanistan. When Shifflett's father called last Friday night with the bad news, it was a nightmare for the soldier's mother.
"You can't breathe. You can't function. It's shock," she said. "You think you can prepare for it, but you can't, especially since the initial information was not good. He was fighting for his life."
Shifflett has undergone six procedures so far, most recently Wednesday in San Antonio where he is in a medically induced coma.
"Fortunately, Ryan wasn't out in the boonies when it happened so they were able to get right on it to save him," said Phil Decker, a 64-year-old Vietnam veteran and Shifflett's stepfather. "It's devastating thinking about what happened and what he's going through."
The cruel irony is Shifflett's duty with the 62nd Engineer Battalion was the perilous job of disarming IEDs, detonating weapons caches and so forth.
Yet he was injured guard
ing a base gate.
"He's cheated death twice now," Donna Decker said, recalling how an IED blew her son's Humvee off a road in Iraq, flipping it several times in 2006.
"That he walked away is a miracle," she said.
Decker is being flown to Texas at the Army's expense. That accommodation and her faith are seeing her through this ordeal.
"'No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper,'" she said, quoting scripture from Isaiah 54:17. "The enemy will have no victory over my son."
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix