In 2010, when Maria was in 8th grade her father, Stephen Carney, passed away from Lou Gehrig's disease only two years after he was diagnosed. Maria’s family watched helplessly as one of the strongest and most caring individuals deteriorated in front of them.
Her father served in the United States Coast Guard for 21 years, and retired as a Senior Chief. Many of those years, he proudly served as a fire chief where he was exposed to and inhaled different chemicals. His disease and eventual death was ruled in the line of duty.
“Life is short, there are so many blessings that we take for granted each day, explained Maria. “By remembering my dad, I’m grateful for the person he has made me to be and everything he has done to better his life and the lives of others, myself included.”
On Veteran’s Day Maria’s family has a barbeque and they visit the veteran’s cemetery where her dad is buried. Maria’s fondest memory of her dad was his enthusiasm and goofiness; he could be completely serious at times but was also a bit of a goofy comedian.
“During a family barbeque, I remember he was trying to teach my brother how to ride a bike and it turned into a competition between my uncle Charlie and him,” described Maria. “My dad fell off the bike because it was too small. He didn’t teach my brother how to ride a bike that day, but I remember looking at the two of them and it was just like they were kids again.”
It was extremely difficult for Maria after the diagnosis because she realized he wouldn’t be able to experience her upcoming life events. Her father made it clear that in life Maria needed to accomplish her dreams and push herself to her fullest potential.
As a teenager, she helped her mother care for her father, which spawned her dream of wanting to become a Nurse Practitioner.
“If it wasn’t for Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation, I would be unable to attend New Mexico State University, and would have done a few years at community college and then stayed in-state,” explained Maria. “I’m so grateful for their help, and that they are taking away what would have been a large financial burden.”