Disabled woman offers a place for veterans to heal

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by JAKE WHITTENBERG / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @jakewhittenberg

KING5.com

Posted on August 2, 2012 at 4:33 PM

Updated Thursday, Aug 2 at 7:09 PM

MOUNT PILCHUCK, Wash. -- In the backwoods of Snohomish County at the base of Mount Pilchuck, Teresa Baird has created a place to heal.

Baird has Multiple Sclerosis and is now a quadriplegic. But she doesn’t let the disease control her sharp mind and witty spirit.

“I’m re-educating my body,” she said with a smile. “I have MS, but it certainly doesn’t have me!”

To help prove that point, in 1995 she decided to take a skydive dressed like a flag, to celebrate her spiritual freedom from the struggles and restraints of her physical disability. It was from that moment that she took the nickname “Flying Eagle.”

Her 23-acre land on the Mountain Loop Highway has been home for decades. She’s found that the cool mountain air, the quiet woods and relaxing atmosphere has been a place of meditation. She credits the land with keeping her spirit alive despite her disease.

“I never realized how much the mountain has healed me,” she said.

But it wasn’t until last year that decided to open her land to others who need to heal too. She is targeting wounded veterans who need a place to find peace, while battling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  She donated the land for vets to use and calls it “Healing Hearts in Hope Veteran’s Retreat Center.”

“These people are the heart of our country,” said Baird.

Most of her inspiration comes from her husband - Bill Baird, a Vietnam veteran, who returned home but in 1987 committed suicide, a casualty of delayed stress from war. She was left to raise four children after being diagnosed with her incurable disease.

“That is what put me in a wheelchair,” she said.

Today, veterans are arriving and using the center.

One group of Vietnam and Korean veterans from the biker group “Combat Veterans International” frequents the center to find peace and comfort, far from the battlefield.

“It’s been 43 years and I am still having nightmares,” said Stephen Bellehumeur. “When life is kicking you in the teeth, you can come here and take a time out.”

The group gathers with their Harleys in a meadow trimmed and maintained by the veterans themselves. In the center is an American flag. For them, the peace and quiet helps them feel alive.

“We all realize we need help a little bit more than we used to,” said Terry Smith. “We all realize we have something in common. This woman is giving us another chance.”     

Baird has dedicated her life to service as member of the State Independent Living Council and frequent speaker.  But said her life’s work is helping veterans, and she wants more to use the center.

“What I have learned through advocacy is the more you help others, the more you help yourself,” said Baird. “That’s whole basis of the center; everybody helps each other.”

There is currently no charge for using the center, although it is accepting donations. Call (360) 691-6284 or (503) 454-0955 for more information or to schedule an event.

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