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Web Site Helps Heal the Scars of War

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U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Gary Linfoot prior to his catastrophic helicopter crash in Iraq in 2008. (Courtesy: Linfoot Family)

Chief Warrant Officer Gary Linfoot is well-versed in the effects of war. In June of 2008, the father of three was conducting a combat operations mission on his 23rd tour in Iraq when his AH-6 helicopter experienced a mechanical failure and crashed, leaving him seriously injured.

“I immediately felt my back explode upon impact,” Linfoot, 40, told FOXNews.com in an interview. “It was when I attempted to egress that I realized my legs did not work and that I was paralyzed.”

The first of his surgeries was performed at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and within three days, he was transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he was reunited with his wife of 17 years, Mari.

PHOTO ESSAY: Click here to see photos of Gary and his family.

“I heard the words, but it really took a long time for the paralysis part to register,” Mari Linfoot, 45, said. “As much as he goes, he’s always come back and been strong and conquered.”

Linfoot was paralyzed from the waist down, so the Clarksville, Tenn., couple knew they had a long, hard road ahead of them. They needed support from their loved ones more than ever, but with friends and family spanning the globe, an exhausted Mari Linfoot was struggling to keep everyone up-to-date on Gary’s condition.

Mari Linfoot knew she needed a better way to communicate with their family, friends and even the other soldiers in Gary’s unit who were curious to hear about his recovery. So she turned to a Web site called CaringBridge.org.Founded by Sona Mehring in 1997, CaringBridge.org is a non-profit organization dedicated to

“Right after the accident I did have a couple people tell me about it, but it wasn’t really registering too much,” Mari Linfoot said. “Then when things settled somewhat, within about a week of the accident I set up an account.”

keeping people connected by providing free online services in times of a health crisis, hospitalization and through recovery. Mehring liked the idea of using technology to communicate with a wide circle of family and friends without placing additional demands on the patient or hospital staff during the healing process.

“CaringBridge simplified everything,” Gary Linfoot said. “It enabled us to inform others of our progress, vent our feelings, share our peaks and valleys, receive comfort from others and in the process, also heal our souls.”

VIDEO: Click here to learn more about how you can help.

Mehring’s Web site is used by more than 20 million families worldwide every year. CaringBridge lets users create their own micro-sites that allow family and friends to track their loved one’s progress, treatment and recovery.

Every CaringBridge Web site is private and tells a personal story that includes a journal for updating family and friends, a photo gallery and even a guestbook where people can leave messages of support and encouragement.

“We drew a lot of comfort and inspiration from people who wrote in our guestbook,“ said Mari Linfoot, who updates her site about four times a week.

“Just knowing that they were praying for us was really all the inspiration we needed. I really don’t want people to stop checking in on us,” she said,“ because we still need support, we still need help, and we still need prayers.”

Most of the marketing for CaringBridge.org has been by word of mouth. And almost 90 percent of all the funding for the Web site comes from the family and friends of the people who use it.

Gary Linfoot continues to work hard in his recovery. He does physical therapy every day and hopes one day to walk again – and maybe even drive his Shelby Mustang.

But for now, he’s just trying take face one battle at a time.

“Every day is full of pain and new challenges,” he said. “There have been days when I have wished I never got out of that helicopter, but those days are fewer now. I try to take it one day at a time and enjoy my kids and my wife. I also try to remember it could have been worse and remain thankful that I do have what I have.”

And Linfoots are certainly thankful for Caringbridge.org.

“Just knowing how many people love and care for my family, and the generosity and love of total strangers has been humbling.”

Click here to learn more about CaringBridge.org.