Battle After War, Part 1 - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Battle After War, Part 1

San Antonio, Texas - November 22, 2011

Reporter Darren Perron: Do you remember anything about July 2, 2010?

Sgt. Ed Matayka: I woke up six weeks later. That's what I remember.

Matayka can't recall the roadside bomb that hit his military vehicle on a road just outside of Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. The blast killed the driver, Specialist Ryan Grady of West Burke, and wounded four Vermont soldiers, Matayka most critically.

"I have fleeting dreams and glimpses of what was going on around me in ICU, but typically no. I don't want to know. I don't want to remember. So, that's OK with me," he said.

But he does remember the ongoing battle to try to recover from his war wounds.

"Life isn't going to be like it was, but it will get back to somewhere near it," he said.

Matayka's life forever changed in a moment. The sergeant lost both of his legs in the blast, suffered spinal fractures, brain damage and then had two strokes.

"When they told me about Ed's injuries, I was completely devastated. I remember collapsing on the floor into a heap of horrible emotions, just wailing as loud as I could in the hospital," said Matayka's wife, Karen.

Karen Matayka is also in the Vermont Guard and was deployed to Afghanistan, too. She rushed to see Ed at the hospital on base shortly after the explosion. Doctors didn't think he'd survive.

"I held his hand and whispered in his ear, not now," she recalled.

And Ed apparently listened. He's made significant progress in the last year and five months. Karen's been right by his side.

Karen Matayka: Basically give him the good old Army, suck it up and drive on! Ha!

Darren Perron: She's your new drill sergeant?

Ed Matayka: She's been. But yes.

Ed Matayka underwent about a year of hospitalization and rehab at military facilities across the U.S. after the explosion. He and his wife, Karen, now call San Antonio, Texas, home and likely will for at least another year.

Ed is now getting treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center and specialized rehabilitation at the Center for the Intrepid or CFI, one of several clinics on the San Antonio campus.

"What makes us different is we do super rehab," Dr. Raul Marin said.

CFI's medical staff works with wounded warriors who suffered severe burns, damage to limbs, and those who lost limbs, like Ed.

"Ed is a complicated patient," Marin said.

They admit it's rare that they see patients with so many injuries. Most never make it this far.

"So, really four injuries; head injury, stroke, spinal cord injury, and bilateral limb amputations. Each one by themselves is difficult, so, Ed combines them all and makes it even more difficult," Marin said.

A difficult fight learning to do just about everything all over again; sitting, balancing, pulling himself into his wheelchair.

CFI is a state-of-the art facility offering the latest in rehabilitation technology.

"He has been through a long rehab process," said Marie Black, a physical therapist at CFI. "I kind of get him a little further along with some of those tasks we take for granted."

Five days a week, five hours a day.

"She is kind of torturing me, but it's a good torture," Matayka said.

He goes through grueling rehab-- repetitive work to regain mobility. He wants to run again someday.

"It's not really a goal. I will. So, it's just a matter of time," Matayka said.

And time is something Matayka is not wasting. In addition to physical therapy, Matayka works on speech and behavioral skills at other clinics on campus. Doctors predicted Ed would die within 24 hours after the explosion. But Ed pulled off what his doctors call a miracle almost exactly one year later: He stood on specially-fitted prosthetics. And not long after that he took his first step.

"No pun intended, but it was a big step forward. Actually that was intended," Ed said, to the amusement of his wife, Karen.

Karen says Ed never lost his quick wit, but he did go through periods of grief, anger and frustration. She just kept him on track.

Karen Matayka: If you have the opportunity to laugh or cry, I'd much rather laugh.

Ed Matayka: I can agree with that one. She summed that up pretty well.

One of Matayka's biggest challenges-- retaining what he's learned. His brain injury impacted some cognitive skills.

"For the most part, brain cells don't grow back. So, if you lost brain cells the functions they used to do are gone," Marin said.

And the strokes left one side of his body weaker than the other; his left hand doesn't work well. But Matayka is gaining strength and distance every day on the parallel bars he uses in rehab.

"It's gone from one lap to two laps to three laps, so I wouldn't call it rocket-fast recovery, but it's steady forward progression," Black said.

Matayka says quality care plays a big role in his recovery, but he credits Karen for giving him the drive to continue down his long road to recovery.

"The best thing I can say about my recovery and the fact that I am still alive is that I had the support of Karen, my wife, and my family," he said.

And both know that many other families are also facing this new battle after war.

"There's still a battle going on," Karen said. "Even though everyone is home from Afghanistan, there's still a fight. And it's a tough one. I think it's harder than going overseas and being on the frontlines."

CFI was funded through private donations-- nearly $50 million. It is now run by the Army.

Related Story:

Battle After War, Part 2

Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 WorldNow and WCAX. All Rights Reserved. For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.