Twenty-eight-year-old Peter Coukoulis returned home to Tallahassee, Florida, five years ago after serving in the U.S. Marines.
But when he returned from his five-year service, he struggled to adapt to civilian life, suffering from a severe case of PTSD that left him anxious, depressed and lacking the will to live.
While he was stationed at Helmand Province, Afghanistan, Peter witnessed horrific scenes marked by bloodshed and fatality that he just couldn’t erase from his mind.
“There have been so many occasions where I’ve seen him so incredibly sad with no sense of self-worth or purpose,” said his mother, Dena.
“With veterans committing suicide at a rate of 22 a day, I worry at all times.”
Her mother’s heart broke for Peter, as she felt there was nothing she could do to pull his mind out of the trenches and the dark thoughts that haunted him.
Then, she got an idea.
Peter grew up with a beagle named Jackie that he loved more than anything in the world. They were best friends ever since he was 9 years old.
“He loved her so much that he used to call her on the phone when he was away on duty,” said Dena. “Sadly, she passed while he was still away, and we had to break the news to him the day he came home, which again really took its toll.”
So she decided that getting Peter a new beagle may just be the ticket to lifting his spirits.
Fearful that her son would soon fall into the 22-a-day statistic, Dena knew she had to take action right away.
“I couldn’t let my son be one of them, and knew I had to get the puppy before Christmas,” she said.
“I thought it would help to save Peter’s life, which is a lot of pressure I know, but I really think I’m right.”
And it turns out, she was.
As she presented Peter with the gift surrounded by family, this grown man turned into that 9-year-old boy again, sobbing tears of joy over the unexpected surprise.
“You know what they’ve been calling her? They’ve been calling her Willa because she has the will to live,” said Dena as she recorded Peter’s priceless reaction.
As he wept tears of joy and kissed his new puppy, Dena saw a ray of hope in her son’s eyes for the first time in years.
“The puppy has already changed Peter’s life, it has made him happy after a very difficult three years,” she said, adding that “he’s made great strides for recovery over the past few years, and this pup will be a huge step towards him reclaiming his life back.”
“He hasn’t named her yet, but he’s leaning towards Jenny, after the character in one of his favorite films, Forrest Gump.”
Watch Peter’s emotional reaction below as he meets the precious new puppy that may have just saved his life. ♥