La Jolla artist discovers more than just a lost camera
What started out as a simple stroll on the beach for Roula Paschali took a turn toward the incredible when she made an unusual discovery.
"I was talking my morning walk at the La Jolla Shores when I noticed a nylon strap sticking out of the sand," Paschali said. "I pulled it out, and there was a camera buried in the sand."
Paschali, a visual artist and La Jolla resident, took the camera home. After clearing off the sand and seaweed, she realized it was a waterproof model. She allowed it to dry out a bit, then retrieved the SIM card and loaded it into her computer. "I expected to see some photos of tourists," she said.
Instead, the image that appeared on her computer screen was that of a young soldier, injured and bleeding.
Shocked, panicked and feeling almost like she was invading someone's privacy, Paschali scrolled through the pictures in an attempt to find a clue as to the identity of the camera's owner.
She saw the same dark-haired young man from the first graphic photo over and over again: with other veterans, tending Middle Eastern villagers and, in one frame, posing with President George W. Bush.
Luck with her
"Then, in one of those photos he had a name tag on his chest," Paschali said. "I couldn't believe my good luck."
Turning to the Internet, Paschali searched the name on Google. Working her way through the various hits, she struck pay dirt on Facebook. Within five minutes of learning Thomas McBride's name and contacting him online, Paschali was talking to him on her cell phone.
"He told me that he lost his camera in the water almost a week ago," she said.
Paschali learned that McBride, a U.S. Navy corpsman, was in San Diego undergoing rehabilitation at the Naval Medical Center San Diego after losing the lower half of his right leg because of an injury sustained while on active duty in Afghanistan last October.
Eager to return his camera to him, they made plans to meet for dinner at Pasquale on Prospect that evening.
"He is an amazing young man," Paschali said. "He is unbelievably brave, positive, modest and very smart. He is also very charismatic."
Over dinner, Paschali's husband, Steve Peltier told a few friends about how the two had met. Diners at other tables overheard the conversation and were soon approaching McBride to shake his hand and hug him.
"He is very open, ready to share his experience with everybody," Paschali said.
This isn't the first time McBride, 26, has found himself the center of attention. Shortly after being deployed, his monthly e-mails to friends and family detailing his wartime experiences were printed in the local paper of the "three-traffic-light" town in New Jersey where he grew up. He has met Bush twice and was also interviewed by Oprah Winfrey.
"To do something, to go through something serious like this and keep it to yourself would be a waste," he said.
McBride said the camera--which he lost while kayaking off the La Jolla Shores--contained photos chronicling his life for several months, including the moments right after the explosion that cost him his leg right on up to being fitted for his first prosthetic.
Given the significance of those images, he was even more appreciative of Paschali's resourcefulness in tracking him down.
"I didn't believe someone could find someone on Facebook just by looking at some pictures on a camera," he said.
After learning that the next day was McBride's birthday, Paschali and Peltier invited him and his girlfriend, Rachel Michael, to join them for dinner again. The celebration cemented the fateful friendship.
"We ended up having a great time," McBride said.
All in perspective
Paschali described the encounter as a "reality check."
"I don't know if these things happen for a reason or not," she said. "It put things into perspective for me. Meeting him, I realized I really should not complain about anything in my life and some people go through really, really painful things."
McBride, who plans to separate from the Navy and return to school after completing rehab, is philosophical about the unexpected turns life can take: "I did a lot of thinking while I was over there. I try to keep a clear mind as much as possible, and I think it helps to have a positive attitude. You could die at any moment so enjoy every minute you have."