Joseph “Blake” DeLoach lost his vision after a rocket propelled grenade struck his vehicle in Afghanistan. Returning to the states, his PTSD was so severe that he was “flooded with paranoia” and was unable to eat without getting sick. After being introduced to NuCalm, Blake says he’s now been able to move beyond such feelings and move forward with his life.
Joseph “Blake” DeLoach, who is 30 years old, was born is a small rural town in South Carolina, not far from the U.S. Marine training base at Parris Island. From the time he was a young boy, Blake remembers having a deep love for the military. As a child, he dressed up in Army fatigues and playacted missions in his yard. “Even as a child I knew joining the military was what I was going to do,” Blake recounts, “and as soon as I came of age I tried to enlist in the Marines.”
But Blake’s childhood was not all playacting and frolic. Far from it. When he was young, he and his older brother were abandoned by their unloving, alcoholic mother, leaving them in the sole care of his father. “I couldn’t ask for a better father,” Blake says. “He’s still the reason I am what I am today. He provided for us and we never went without a meal, although sometimes dad did.”
Because his father worked the graveyard shift, he needed to sleep during the day. Since Blake’s brother was four years older than him, he was usually off spending time with his friends, leaving Blake mostly on his own. His feelings of isolation did not improve when Blake turned old enough to begin school. He didn’t enjoy school and found it difficult. Because of the loneliness he felt, Blake began to use drugs. “I was twelve or thirteen when I started using cocaine,” he admits. “That’s what I turned to because I really didn’t have anyone or anything else in my life at the time. There’s really no answer for why I did what I did. That’s just the way it played out.” He was forced to repeat ninth grade three times because of his poor grades, and once he entered tenth grade and came of age, Blake chose to drop out of school. “I just wasn’t good at school,” he says. “I couldn’t understand it. It just wasn’t for me, so I dropped out.”
In place of school, Blake found work through local temp agencies, biding his time until he could enlist in the military. Using the money, Blake paid for and passed a course to obtain his General Equivalency Degree (G.E.D.). As soon as he was old enough, he went to enlist in the Marines, only to be told a G.E.D. was not enough to be accepted into the Corps. Disheartened, Blake returned home. “I didn’t even consider enlisting in the Army,” he says. “I wanted to be a Marine.”
Then fate intervened. That same night, Blake received a call from an Army staff sergeant who had obtained his name and number from the Marine recruiting office. The next day, after taking and passing his qualification tests, Blake signed his enlistment papers to join the Army. “My goal was to get a combat-oriented job so that I could serve my country,” he says. “I didn’t want to be a paper pusher or anything like that. I’m a people pusher.”
Based on his qualifications, Blake was offered positions in the infantry or as a cavalry combat scout in the 19th Delta. According to the U.S. Army’s website, a “cavalry scout is responsible for being the eyes and ears of the commander during battle. They engage the enemy in the field, track and report their activity and direct the employment of weapon systems to their locations.”
Blake asked for more information about the cavalry scout position, insisting on an honest answer. “I was told, ‘Well, if you like hard work, long days, and getting dirty in the mud and so forth, you’ll love the job.’ I said, sign me up.” Blake was then told about the Army’s Airborne School, or Jump School. This interested him, so he signed up for that too.”
It was during this time that Blake married his first wife, someone he’d known since sixth grade. One week later, he departed for six weeks of basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
In March 2007, Blake was seriously injured for the first time while serving in Iraq. “I got blown up,” he deadpans. “I was on patrol walking down a street in South Baghdad when an IED (improvised explosive device) blew up about ten feet in front of me.” Despite suffering a shoulder injury and trauma to his brain, “I pushed through the mission, and then returned home later that month, in time for my second son to be born.”
His respite home was short-lived, however. Two weeks later, Blake was back in Iraq “pushing through more missions” despite lingering problems with his shoulder. “Every time I would put on my gear, my arm would go numb,” he says. Eventually, it was determined that because of his injury he was experiencing poor circulation in both his arm and shoulder. As a result, he was medevacked home in June of that year, where he underwent intensive therapy to rebuild his shoulder.
It was during this time that Blake first began to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They manifested when he found himself unable to be around his infant sons when they cried. Their cries were too much for him cope with because while in Iraq the opposition forces regularly played recordings of babies crying and screaming. “I couldn’t bear to be around them when they cried because it bothered me so deeply,” he says.
Before much longer, Blake’s enlistment in the Army was coming to an end, but because of his desire to continue to serve his country, he wanted to re-enlist.
Blake re-enlisted so that he could continue to look out for his fellow Army colleagues and new recruits arriving in combat zones for the first time. Blake’s next tour of duty was to Afghanistan. Two months into his deployment there he learned that his wife had taken his sons and left him for another man. In order to cope, he kept his focus on his mission “and keeping my guys safe.” Before long, Blake and his wife divorced. Since then, she has refused to allow him to see his sons. “The last time I saw them, they were two, three, and four,” Blake says. “They were so little.”
When Blake returned to Afghanistan, he was assigned to a personal security detachment detail, where he was responsible for protecting a high-ranking officer. “But I didn’t want to leave my unit,” he says. “Those guys were like family.” So, Blake did all he could to spend time with them while in Afghanistan.
On October 18, 2010, Blake was assigned to accompany the officer he guarded to meet with local Afghani elders as part of a community outreach detail. But he soon discovered that the soldier assigned to replace him in his unit wasn’t even awake, let alone dressed and ready to accompany them on their next mission. Knowing that his unit was already short of men due to some of them being away on leave, Blake asked for and was granted permission to instead accompany his unit in what was supposed to be “just a simple mission.”
Soon after Blake and his unit set off, after they passed the first checkpoint, they were ambushed. The vehicle Blake was in was hit by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) that landed inside it, where it exploded. “It broke my driver’s arm and did a lot of damage to my face and eyes,” Blake recounts. “I lost my vision instantly and took a lot of shrapnel. My headset was completely blown off my head, my protective vests were destroyed, and so were my weapons. Basically, my entire crew was down.”
“A piece of metal had punctured my ribcage, shattering my fourth and fifth ribs and blowing bone fragments into my lung,” Blake recalls, “so I couldn’t breathe. I was also in severe pain, with wounds to the arteries in my neck. I was bleeding out and couldn’t receive painkillers because they would have thinned my blood, and I would have bled out faster.”
Because of the severity of his life-threatening wounds, Blake was put into an induced coma, both to spare him from his pain, and in the hopes that he would somehow pull through. While in this unconscious state, Blake was visited by a general, who asked him if he was all right. “Apparently, when he asked me that, I was told that I gave him a thumbs up,” Blake chuckles.
Days later, when he was finally brought out of his coma, his eyes were taped shut. He was told the doctors were unsure of his hearing, especially in his right ear, which had suffered the most damage from the grenade’s explosion. Nor were the doctors sure how well he would ever talk again because Blake had lost fifteen percent of his jawbone structure, as well as eight teeth. He’d also had a bad reaction to the anesthesia he’d been administered, leaving him with limited mobility, along with serious muscle loss. “I couldn’t even hold my head up,” Blake says.
But the biggest blow came when Blake was told he had lost his vision. The attack had left Blake irreversibly blind in both eyes. Despite his injuries, Blake returned his focus to self-recovery. Each day, he made a bit more progress until, one month later, he walked out of the hospital. “I walked out of there under my own power,” he says proudly, “ I carried myself out of that hospital. I did that. Nobody else did that.”
Blake left the hospital in December 2010, and continued to undergo therapy in Augusta, Georgia. During his rehabilitation, Blake met his current wife Lauren. Lauren was one of his instructors during his rehab therapy. “When we met, I felt like I’d known her my whole life,” Blake smiles. Lauren was the first person who Blake felt loved him for who he is. “I didn’t know how to react to that at first,” he admits.
When Blake and Lauren first met, he was on 26 different medications, most of which were narcotic drugs that Blake became addicted to. “I was self-medicating,” he says. “Lauren met me at my worst, yet she still saw the best in me. I don’t know how she did it, but she did, so I try every day to give a little bit more to her.”
After nearly nine years of service, Blake retired from the military in 2014. Blake still desired to remain in the Army because he’d always wanted to spend his entire career serving his country, but because of his disabilities he was told he had to retire. The news sent him into a downward spiral of depression. “I was in a bad place,” he says. On one particularly low day, Blake “took a bunch of painkillers and alcohol” that caused him to have a seizure. Collapsing, he broke his back in six places. “I was so embarrassed by what I’d done that I lied to Lauren about what caused it,” he says. “I didn’t want her to think I was weak.”
Blake continued to abuse painkillers on and off for another two years, but Lauren’s love for him finally led to break free of his addiction in 2016. “I did it on my own,” Blake says. “I went cold turkey, going through tremors, shakes, puking, all of that.” This lasted for seven brutal days. Since that time, Blake has maintained his sobriety.
In his quest to continue to improve his health and maintain his sobriety, Blake began going to the gym to work out. He quickly discovered how much he loved doing so, especially lifting weights. As a result, Blake became a power lifter and now competes in competitions. “It’s such an amazing feeling to know I’m sweating because I’m doing something good and healthy for myself,” he enthuses.
The progress Blake has made as a power lifter is remarkable. In one competition, he squat-pressed 363 pounds and bench-pressed 297 pounds. In April of this year, Blake traveled to Boston, where, because of his achievements, he and Lauren were selected to receive a fully adapted house by Homes for our Troops. Blake still marvels over this because of the mindset that was instilled in him during his time in the military. “When you join the military,” he explains, “the number one thing they tell you is you are not special, you’re just a soldier, and that’s it.” Being considered special is something Blake still has not gotten used to, though the way he’s triumphed over all the adversity he’s endured certainly attests to the fact that he is.
Understanding Blake’s anxiety about dentists, a common phobia of many dental patients, his dentist Dr. Kaufman introduced him to the NuCalm system. “NuCalm has helped me quite a lot,” Blake says. Upon hearing Blake’s story, David Poole, Executive Vice President of Sales of Solace Lifesciences gifted Blake and Lauren with their very own NuCalm system. Blake believes having his own system will be a big help for him as he maintains his sobriety.
Blake is brutally honest about his struggles with addiction. “I’m an addict and I will always be an addict,” he says. “Anyone who says they were an addict is still in denial. Power lifting helps me stay sober, and now having NuCalm, the things that might make me want to use again are addressed through the NuCalm system. It keeps me calm. Before, I might choose a narcotic to do that, now I don’t have to anymore. NuCalm helps me stay strong.”
“If anyone deserves the gift of NuCalm, it’s Blake, “David Poole says. “He’s given so much and served so many and has received so little in return for his service and sacrifices. Our chief scientist specifically invented NuCalm for people like Blake to help them better cope and heal from addiction and PTSD.”
Blake’s love for his country and desire to serve it remains as strong as ever, and the example of his heroic journey continues to inspire others. “I told myself when I found out I was blind that I was not going to let blindness win,” he says. “So, I’m pursuing things you don’t normally see blind people do. I want to be a change agent for my fellow veterans and give back to them by my example. That’s my goal.”
Because of the acute PTSD he developed due to his past tribulations, “I was flooded with paranoia,” Blake says. “I couldn’t eat without getting sick. I literally thought everything was going to make me sick.” Because of NuCalm, Blake says he’s been able to move beyond such feelings. “All of that has gone away or is so minute it’s barely noticeable.”
Another significant benefit Blake has experienced since he began using NuCalm regularly is improved quality of sleep. “I can tell that my sleep is better when I use NuCalm compared to the times that I don’t use it,” he says. Even more importantly, Blake reports that NuCalm has changed the quality of his dreams, which previously could devolve into night terrors. In his dreams now, he can see, and he often dreams he is telling people that he has his vision.
Blake continues to use NuCalm five days a week. One Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays he uses it for an hour each day prior to going to the gym to train. “There are several audio tracks that I like that really calm me down,” he says. “I alternate between them.”
Based on his own experience with NuCalm, Blake would like to see it adopted for use by the military so other men and women who are putting their lives on the line in service to our country can also benefit from it. “Being in a third world country in a war zone takes a toll on you mentally no matter who you are, so if NuCalm is being offered, why not take advantage of a system that has scientific proof to help keep you from going down a bad path?”