Grace Verardo, 3, came home from preschool one day and told her mother, “Someone said daddy is gross.” Heartbroken, yet inspired, Sarah Verardo knew she needed to do something. Her husband, Michael Verardo, lost his left leg and much of his left arm while serving as an infantryman in Afghanistan. He‘s undergone over 100 surgeries and years of speech, visual, physical and occupational therapies. However, as the father of three young children, Sarah realized he isn’t the only struggling with his battle wounds.
April is the #MonthoftheMilitaryChild & our children’s book will debut later this month to share the stories of families like ours. Our girls were born post injury and never knew their Dad was different until other people told them. Stay tuned to learn more! #HeroAtHome pic.twitter.com/S4Iy0LA9xu
— Sarah Verardo (@sarah_verardo) April 1, 2018
During an event at Grace’s school, Sarah remembers overhearing another child’s comments about her husband. She shrugged it off until Grace brought it up.
“When I was putting her to bed, she said to me, ‘Someone said daddy’s gross, but he’s so handsome and he’s a hero,’” she told People. “I realized that, for her to still be processing it two days later, meant that it really bothered her and I needed to give her the tools to deal with what I’ve been dealing with for many years.” This gave her an idea: A children’s book.
She wanted to help her daughters, as well as their peers, understand what life is like for families when a soldier comes home severely wounded. “How do we explain what makes our families different and special, and how do we celebrate that?” she said.
And just like that, Hero at Home was born. Released on April 18, Sarah’s self-published book displays bright watercolor illustrations that truly tell her family’s story. It’s her hope that it helps other countless veterans and their families in similar situations, as well as others who may not understand the journey of a military family.
Just in time for #MOMC, NC Dole Caregiver Fellow Alum and Executive Director of @IndyFund, @sarah_verardo published the children’s book #HeroAtHome to explain the physical injuries of a #veteran in a way children can understand. Check it out: https://t.co/hoeDosNktp pic.twitter.com/E6DepiIWJq
— Elizabeth Dole Foundation (@DoleFoundation) April 20, 2018
“There are many military families who struggle with explaining the complex injuries to their own children, and even more so with children who are not exposed to this life on a daily basis,” Sarah told ABC News.
In addition to explaining Michael’s injuries, the book shines a light on one very important aspect of life after combat: Recovery. Possibly the most critical page of all contains a message that Sarah says many people do not understand: “Grace’s dad is still working hard to get better.”
Eight years and 100+ surgeries later, Michael Verardo is still in recovery. “He’s still in intensive physical therapy. Life will probably never be medically stable, but we’re still grateful for every minute of it,” Sarah told People.
The book is available on Amazon and proceeds from sales go to the Independence Fund, a nonprofit helping severely wounded veterans and their families. And while it may be meant for children, people of all ages can learn from it.