Winter in Western New York has always been a season of waiting. We wait for Christmas to come; we brace for that first snowfall. Some of us impatiently wait for summer to return.
None of that measures up to the anxiety felt by the Coopenberg family from Holley, Orleans County. For the six months since July, they have waited to see if their daddy, husband and son would live.
"It was very hard at first," says Hannah Coopenberg. "I didn't know if my husband was going to make it."
It was July - just over three months into his first tour of duty - when 21-year-old Army First-Class Private Cody Coopenberg was gravely injured in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Cody had been refueling a generator on his base, when the generator suddenly exploded. Coopenberg was engulfed in flames. In matter of seconds, over sixty-percent of the skin on his body was burned away.
"He was pretty much immobile, not coherent," recalls Pam Coopenberg. She flew to Texas to be with her son when he was brought home from Afghanistan.
"It was scary for awhile," says Pam. "We very well could have lost him."
Doctors told the family that all hope was lost. They told Cody's wife that the private would never walk again, and might not live through the surgeries needed to repair him.
"I kept telling myself, 'We can get through it,'" says Hannah. "And he proved it."
Cody survived every procedure, including a number of skin grafts to his face and torso.
Then the waiting, and healing, set in.
"It was definitely not how I wanted to see my husband after we got married, laying in a hospital bed," says Hannah. She stayed with Cody at his new home on a Texas military base, shuffling between being there for Cody, and caring for the couple's toddler son.
But good things come to those who wait -- and on Saturday, Private Cody Coopenberg came home. He strolled through the concourse at Greater Rochester International Airport with a long gait, first hugging and kissing his wife, then his mother.
Then, for the first time since leaving in March, Cody encountered many old friends and further-distant family members.
Among the crowd could be seen several surprised faces; that's because Cody looks different than when he left. His face is a combination of several skin grafts. Some of his facial and bodily bone structures have changed. Also, Cody's right arm is nearly immobile.
But Cody is a changed man, only on the outside. All it took was a wave of his signature cowboy hat for everyone to know: Cody Coopenberg is home.
"My wounds will heal with time," he told the crowd of supporters at the Greater Rochester International Airport. "Thank you all so much, I appreciate (your being here) so much."
When asked about his injuries, Cody displayed the same strength that helped him fight through the accident.
"The doctors told my wife that I might not walk. And they also told her that I might not live," he said. "But being who I am, I grew up taught that you never give up, you never back down, you always push forward."
There are more surgeries ahead for Cody, beginning with one to fix his immobilized right arm. But Cody Coopenberg is home for Christmas with his wife, son and family -- proof that the wait has been worthwhile.