High school sweethearts overcome odds, expand their family | Bob Woodruff Foundation

High school sweethearts overcome odds, expand their family

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Josh Hanna can’t remember a time when he didn’t want to serve his country. “When I was a kid, I used to beg my parents to send me to military school,” he jokes.

At 17, he got his wish. Josh’s dad helped him enlist in the United States Air Force. Also by his side? His girlfriend, now wife, Stephanie. The two dated and married during his first station in Las Vegas. They weathered Josh’s first deployment to Iraq in 2010. 

Despite Josh’s role as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician – think: ‘The Hurt Locker’ – the beginning of their marriage was quiet. “Despite Josh’s specialty, the first deployment wasn’t so bad,” says Steph. “I was kind of naïve.”  After his return from Iraq, Josh transferred to Anderson Air Force Base in Guam and Stephanie packed her bags for a trip to the Pacific. 

Things would change in September of 2010. During a deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan, one of Josh’s EOD colleagues was killed in action. Two weeks later, their friend, sent to replace the first, became the second casualty. Then, it was Josh’s turn.

“You hear about people getting killed. It’s war,” says Steph. “But these were our friends. We had just attended his wedding. It really hit home.”

Between harrowing patrols, Josh managed to carry a full course load and complete his college degree while in Afghanistan, returning home safely to Steph in the summer of 2012.  Shortly after returning from Afghanistan, Josh and Steph also welcomed their first son Indiana, who they call “their forever souvenir.”

But the tests they would face as a family were only just beginning.

“Pregnancy number two happened pretty quickly,” says Steph. But at 17 weeks, her water broke, and the baby brother they had wished for was lost in an instant.

“We felt like this was part of God’s plan. And we believed he has his reasons, and figured we could try again.”

For the Hanna’s, that reason soon became clear. While Steph was miscarrying, the family was in the midst of a transfer to Pensacola, Florida. Further straining the situation, Josh would spend eight weeks at Officer Training School in Alabama and then head off to Colorado Springs for flight training.

The Hanna family: Steph holding Baby Rudy (left), Indy (center), and Josh (right).

In Colorado, Josh began having issues eating, swallowing and breathing. “The doctor did a chest x-ray and found a tumor the size of a softball,” says Josh. He would spend his 27th birthday in intensive care, ready to undergo eight weeks of chemotherapy for leukemia.

Right before treatment began, Josh and Steph mentioned to staff that they had just lost a child, and were hoping to conceive again. A nurse directed the Hanna’s to a local fertility center, where Josh was able to make a successful sperm deposit before beginning chemo, which can negatively impact fertility. 

Following chemotherapy and a stint at the world-renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Josh is now cancer-free.

With a clean bill of health, the Hanna’s moved back to Florida, and began thinking about expanding their family, this time through IVF.

By that time, the Air Force has medically discharged Josh. His dreams of a military career were upended by cancer.

“Having children through IVF is not an inexpensive process, and when you find yourself unemployed, you have to put it on the back burner,” he says. The family moved to Nashville, where Josh is now a criminal investigator for the Department of Homeland Security.

Back on their feet, the VA began helping the couple navigate the fertility process, and while the administration would cover much of the procedure, the Hanna’s would have to pay $2,600 to transport Josh’s sperm from Colorado. “The VA suggested we check out the Veterans In Vitro Initiative,” says Josh.

The couple visited the Bob Woodruff Foundation website, submitted an inquiry, and heard from VIVA coordinator Ann Philopena in less than a week.

“Ann told us to arrange for transportation and send her the bill, it was that simple,” they say. “We have been a military family from day one, and nothing ever happens that quickly. Rarely do you get that single point of contact.”

Following a successful IVF cycle, Josh, Steph and big brother Indy welcomed baby Rudy in May.

“Anybody who’s gone through IVF has already experienced a lot of setbacks,” says Steph. “VIVA offered us a level of hope and support that we didn’t think was possible. Where we are now is where we are supposed to be.”

For more information on how the Bob Woodruff Foundation helps military families struggling with infertility, visit our VIVA homepage.