A picture perfect American hero receives a furry companion from Smoky Mountain Service dogs after a traumatic brain injury changes his and his family's lives forever.
Colonel Shawn Pederson served a distinguished career in the United States Air Force, graduating from the Air Force Academy in 1990 and going on to be a commander in the 484th Fighter Squadron, fly with the Thunderbirds as their lead pilot, and serve as Vice Commander at Seymour Johnson in North Carolina.
"He's the classic overachiever, unlike his big brother," laughed his older brother Gary Pederson. "He's had a magnificent career. Then, unfortunately, literally four days before he was supposed to be operating on, he had the aneurysm burst. And, here we are today."
A brain aneurysm that Colonel Pederson was scheduled to have operated on, ruptured a few days before surgery. The incident sent him into a coma for several months and rendered him unable to talk or move.
From that moment on, life for the entire Pederson family changed forever.
"It's become a family mission. He's never failed at anything in his life, so it's our opinion that he won't fail at this," Gary Pederson said.
While the Pederson family was on a mission to help their son and brother recover, a lab/retriever puppy was embarking on a mission of his own.
Vanner trained for nearly three years at Smoky Mountain Service Dogs to be the perfect companion. Unlike other dogs in the program, Vanner wouldn't just be working with his veteran, he'd be training with Colonel Pederson's brother and mother.
"Having Vanner is just an answer to our prayers because the doctors said that having a service dog will enable Shawn to have the incentive to move his arms, which he has difficulty doing. It will also help to awaken him emotionally and intellectually because it gives him a focus," said mother Karen Pederson.
"We've seen a decided change in his attitude since getting the dog. He's just more outgoing. When the dog comes in the room, he's just animated and glowing because he loves dogs. He used to have one."
Just like Pederson always looked out for his wingmen in the Air Force, on this mission, Vanner will be looking out for him.