She Lost Her Brother in Iraq. To Heal, She Did This

On April 29, 2007, U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Travis Manion died in combat in Anbar province near Fallujah.

“My brother’s death changed me,” said the 40-year-old Doylestown native. With her family, she launched The Travis Manion Foundation, run by her mother, Janet. The nonprofit offers support and leadership programs to veterans and relatives of fallen veterans, providing opportunities to connect, build relationships and work together on service projects.

When her mother died of cancer in April 2012, Manion took over the foundation’s operation. She trained for and ran marathons to raise money to support it while trying to build her own identity as a “tough, capable, resilient woman. For a long time, I had lied to myself about how happy and fulfilled I felt.”

In truth, she had begun having panic attacks, had become too terrified to drive, and wouldn’t venture more than 10 miles from the home she shared with her husband and children.

“I had started smoking again,” she said, “crying in the shower, and regularly feeling seized by anxiety.”

That Christmas, she retreated to her bedroom and began hyperventilating. It was time to admit she was not OK.

Finally, she sought the help of a therapist. The diagnosis — post-traumatic stress disorder — outraged her. To vent, she called Amy Looney Heffernan, who had been married to her brother’s best friend, Brendan Looney, a U.S. Navy SEAL who died in combat in 2010.

“Can you believe that s—?” Manion barked at Heffernan. “I don’t have PTSD!”

“That’s OK,” Heffernan replied. “My therapist told me the same thing.”

Thus began many conversations between Manion and Heffernan about grief, loss and healing. They were joined by Heather Kelly, whose Marine husband, Robert Kelly, was killed in combat in 2010.