TAMPA — Local donations and prayers continue to bolster a family at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., as a Tampa native faces multiple surgeries after losing three of his limbs in Afghanistan.
Cpl. Michael Nicholson, 22, is "strong-willed," Mary Nicholson said of her son during a recent phone interview.
His recovery, however, may be his toughest battle yet.
Nicholson was on foot patrol July 6 in Afghanistan when he lost his legs and an arm to a hidden explosive.
The Marine was recovering after a seven-hour surgery last week, in which doctors prepared his arm for a prosthesis. It was his 17th surgery.
Nicholson will need to heal before undergoing another surgery in two or three weeks.
Mary Nicholson has been in Bethesda since he arrived. His father, John Nicholson, has traveled back and forth from their home in Tampa. They aren't sure when their son will come home.
"We're taking it a day at a time," his mother said. "Trying to be a strong as we can."
Support from the community has steadied them, Nicholson's father wrote in an e-mail that he sent to express the family's "sincerest gratitude."
"It has been truly phenomenal," he wrote. "This outpouring of good wishes has been instrumental in getting our family through this difficult time."
Within hours of the devastating explosion, news had traveled through South Tampa, and more than 200 people gathered later that day inside the chapel at Christ the King Catholic Church, where the Nicholsons are active members. There, parishioners prayed for his recovery.
"It was a wonderful show of support and love and unity in prayer," said Father David Toups, pastor of Christ the King. "People around the world are praying for Michael."
Ever since, more than 100 Christ the King parishioners have prayed for Nicholson daily at the 12:10 Mass, Toups said.
Donations and other offers have flowed in to cover the family's extraneous needs, such as retrofitting the Nicholson home for their son's return. Home Depot has offered to help with that, his mother said.
People like Cristine Kreplick, a Navy veteran, have stepped up. She read about Nicholson in the news and is now organizing fundraisers and keeping track of donations.
The American Legion's Heroes to Hometowns Program has offered to build a wheelchair ramp and to provide a service dog that would help Nicholson get around, Kreplick said.
As of early this week, people had given more than $30,000 to the Michael Nicholson Road to Recovery Fund.
He grew up in South Tampa, attended Christ the King's school and graduated in 2007 from Plant High, where he played on the soccer team.
He always wanted to join the military, said family friend Bryce Ally, 21.
"He saw it as a calling," said Ally, who had used Skype to connect with Nicholson on the Fourth of July, just two days before his injuries. He was very optimistic, she said.
Ally remembers Nicholson running 10 miles a day and loving to drive his truck. "He is a good old Southern boy," she said.
The Nicholson home was a teen hangout back in the day, she said, and Mary Nicholson was a second mom.
At Christ the King, Mary Nicholson had helped to create a military support ministry for families of men and women serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, her own family is a focus for the ministry.
"So many people are praying for him," she said. "We can't send out individual thank you cards."
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3431.