Tristan, a private first class in the U.S. Army, was stationed in Iraq in September 2003 when one day, a peaceful Iraqi protest turned violent and chaotic. Without warning, a grenade exploded right in front of him.
Tristan says he saw blood on his pants and tasted blood in his mouth. Then, he put his hand to neck and saw blood spraying onto his hand. Tristan remembers sticking his finger inside his throat "up to his knuckle" to stop the bleeding. After undergoing emergency surgery in a makeshift hospital, Tristan was moved to a hospital in Germany for further treatment.
A week later, Tristan says he noticed that the wound on his neck had swollen up to the size of a golf ball. "The doctors told me that it was probably just part of the healing process, but I knew that there was something more there," he says.
While in the hospital, Tristan flipped on the television. The only show "not in German is Oprah," he says. As his roommate slept, Tristan watched an episode about outrageous medical mistakes.
One incident in particular, "about doctors who leave surgical equipment inside of their patients on accident," caught Tristan's attention, he says.
Tristan says after watching that show, he was positive something was lodged in his neck. "I didn't know if it was an infection or they might have left something in me," he says. "But I just knew something was wrong, and I needed them to check it out."
He shared this theory with doctors at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. When one of the doctors opened the wound, they found a piece of gauze nine inches long, Tristan says. Because of the location of the wound, Tristan says, a blood infection caused by that gauze could have been lethal.
"The doctors said it was a good thing I watched Oprah that day because it probably saved my life."
Oprah's Favorite Things 2005
was extra special because the audience was full of real-life heroes: courageous Hurricane Katrina relief volunteers.
One of the heroes in attendance was Ryan, who had begun his own relief drive, collecting items in his garage. Ryan wanted to deliver the goods to the Gulf himself, but did not have the money to make the trip south.
Ryan did, however, have two tickets to see his beloved Chicago White Sox
play in their first World Series in 88 years. A die-hard fan who says he's "watched probably every single White Sox game for the past five years," Ryan sold his tickets to pay for his trip to the Gulf region. The White Sox went on to win the Series.
"When I weighed the option of having a great time at this game while there were hundreds of thousands of people in the Gulf that were suffering, it seemed like an easy decision to me," Ryan says.
Many people were touched by Ryan's story, including two very special people: Mark Buehrle and Scott Podsednik from the 2005 World Champion Chicago White Sox! Mark and Scott want to show their appreciation for what Ryan gave up to help those in need.
First, these Sox reps give Ryan a White Sox jersey—with his name on it! "It's not over—it gets better," Mark says. "We'd like you to wear that on opening day! We'd like you to come out and throw the first pitch at opening day!
Mark and Scott have more news for Ryan—before opening day, Ryan and a guest will be flown to White Sox spring training in Tucson—to work out with the team!
Ryan is also now an official part of the White Sox family. Scott presents Ryan with the organization's Roland Hemond Award, which recognizes those who give of themselves for the benefit of others. "As a recipient of this award, the White Sox are going to fly you and a guest to the 2006 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh," Scott says.
And as a coup de grace, the White Sox are going to pay for Ryan's season tickets this season!
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