Sgt. Dhayana Estrella-Conklin: Embracing life's gifts

WTU Force Structure Sgt. Estrella-Conklin, her husband Richard and their "fur baby" Odin enjoy a morning hike. (Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy Sgt. Dhayana EstrellaConklin)

By Annette P. Gomes, Warrior Care Transition

On September 11, 2015, Estrella-Conklin was involved in a car accident as she headed to the in-processing center at Fort Bragg. Initially, three vehicles were involved in a bumper to bumper collision. After exiting her vehicle to assess the damage and help a friend, two more vehicles traveling at 60 mph crashed into the three car pileup. As she attempted to get out of the way, her left leg was clipped, she was dragged several feet and pinned between vehicles, losing consciousness. After regaining consciousness, Estrella -Conklin says she and other Soldiers involved in the accident applied Army combat life-saving skills by preparing and applying a tourniquet which aided in saving her leg.

"I believe life itself is a gift. I feel fortunate to be part of this universe; this world; this country. Prior to my accident I waited for my blessings. I'd like to think I'm in control of my blessings now," Estrella -- Conklin said.

She began to take control of her life and focus on her future as she recovered at Fort Bragg's Warrior Transition Unit while temporarily confined to a wheelchair and bedridden. "The cycle between the chair and bed continued for about three months. I was doing everything I could to stay positive, but as an active, capable young woman who suddenly found herself extremely limited in her ability to move, I felt stripped of my independence; at times it was difficult to have faith in my healing process. I was happy, but limited," she said.

With hard work and determination, the New Jersey native began to heal physically. She began to think about returning to duty and the career opportunities available at the WTU. She took the Project Management Course and landed an internship with U.S. Army Forces Command and credits her "WTU family" for her success.

"They've been patient and understanding. It was difficult trying to get back on track physically as well as thinking about my career and the future. I was extremely anxious and nervous, but they are all awesome mentors. I started off with the Project Management Course and once I earned my certificate, I began to regain my confidence. That experience fueled me to really focus on my future"

"Sgt. Estrella-Conklin never stops and she's incredibly determined. Those qualities are an asset to the recovery process," said Larry Lingenfelter, Transition Coordinator at Fort Bragg's WTU. She has taken advantage of every opportunity the WTU offers. She views her internship at FORSCOM as an opportunity to excel and give 110 percent.

Throughout the entire process, Estrella would lean on her family, friends and her long-time boyfriend, Richard. In October 2015, a month after the accident that changed her life, Estrella-Conklin and Richard got married in the presence of 20 of their closest family and friends.

"With everything I was facing then, with the possibility of my left leg being amputated and continuously experiencing panic attacks, the fact that this man wanted to spend his life with me was the truest sign of love. Before my husband, I was a proud Soldier with one task in mind; professional progression. This accident made me realize the importance of sharing your life with a soul mate. I fear that my recovery would have been very dark had my husband not pushed me through.

Estrella is continuing her physical therapy while growing professionally during her internship at FORSCOM.