Upon coming back from a year performing dangerous duties ranging from blowing up roadside bombs and weapons caches to building forward-moving camps, Zagami, now 26, began what he called “a new war.”
"The hardest part for my family during my entire time in the service in the military was definitely my return home," said Zagami, a Needham native who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) sustained in multiple blasts. "That’s when my family saw my health deteriorate. That’s when I had the hardest time transitioning into the quote-unquote normal life.
"I couldn’t even face society. It was too hard waking up in the middle of the night looking for my rifle because I didn’t know where my weapon was. Having it be very quiet was a really different world. And it was so scary to go to sleep and have it be so quiet. I felt like that was the calm before the storm that was about to come."
After spending a week locked in his bedroom, suffering a stroke, losing loads of weight and finding himself unable to resist violent mood swings, nothing was “normal” for Zagami. But through the support of his family, particularly his younger sister, Jaime, and events such as the Run to Home Base 9K on May 23, he has hope.
Currently, Zagami is attempting to get his treatments moved to Massachusetts General Hospital, which has partnered with the Red Sox Foundation to set up the Home Base Program for veterans struggling with PTSD and/or TBI. If and when he can join that outfit, Zagami can finally bring Jaime and others to his appointments.
"My sister would like to be a part of that," he added. "Coming from a medical family they get frustrated. They wonder 'Why can’t we see what’s going on? Why can’t we have a say?'"
Until they do, Zagami continues to seek treatment on his own for a variety of ills. He has high blood pressure and an enlarged heart. Sleep is rarely an option and both his concentration and short-term memory are, in Zagami’s words, “horrible.”
This was supposed to be the prime of Zagami’s life. Instead, he spends hours in hospital rooms surrounded by others twice his age being treated for the same symptoms. All this six years after he returned from Iraq, unaware of what countless mortar blasts and demolition runs had done to him.
"I never imagined that I’d be looking back and saying that those were the healthiest days of my life before I entered Iraq," said Zagami, who was just 18 when he stepped down in a war zone. "I’m 26-years-old and I thought I would be in the top peak performance. I thought I would be able to move on. I never realized that this fight was going to stick with me for the rest of my life.
"That’s really difficult to deal with."
Seeing his family still concerned keeps Zagami going. Knowing countless others who served their country are going through the same thing only makes him stronger.
"The Army loves to just slap a disability rating on you and say we’ll give you a check for the rest of your life, have fun," he said. "But that’s not what I want. That’s not what any soldier wants. We want our health back and we’re willing to do whatever it takes."
Jaime and Zagami’s other two siblings will be with him when he runs into Fenway Park on Sunday. For Zagami, a die-hard Red Sox fan who recalls meeting Mo Vaughn at Fenway as one of his favorite childhood memories, there is great symbolism in running to home plate.
Home is where Zagami and thousands of others wanted to run to upon leaving their service behind. But it’s never that easy.