A Soldier's Heart, Part 1 - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

A Soldier's Heart, Part 1

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SAN ANTONIO -

Ed Matayka struggles to make even small movements with his left arm. He goes through painstaking occupational therapy to do simple things, like releasing tiny cubes from his fingertips.

"A lot of that is retraining my brain," he said.

It's the latest fight this Vermont Guard soldier faces after being critically wounded on a rural road in Afghanistan.

"It is still tough and it has been three years," he said.

On July 2, 2010, the military vehicle Ed was riding in hit a massive roadside bomb just outside Bagram Airfield. One Vermonter died in the blast, another was seriously wounded. Ed lost both of his legs, suffered spinal fractures, a traumatic brain injury, and then had two strokes. Doctors thought he would die. But his wife, Karen, also a medic serving in Afghanistan at the time, refused to believe it.

"I did what I had to do," Karen said.

She held his hand and whispered in his ear "not now." And Ed listened.

"He is four patients in one-- four different kinds of catastrophic injuries in one man," said Dr. Raul Marin of the Center for the Intrepid.

Ed battled back, learning just about everything all over again. He's been getting specialized rehabilitation at the Center For the Intrepid or CFI, a military hospital in San Antonio, Texas. Ed pulled off what doctors called a miracle one year after the explosion, taking his first step on specially fitted prosthetic legs.

"Those are all life-changing diagnoses by themselves and he has all four of them and was still walking around the gym," said Marie Black, a physical therapist at CFI. "Moving, pushing himself and working hard. It's an amazing physical accomplishment that Ed did."

One hundred and eighty-five Vermont National Guard soldiers were wounded in Afghanistan. Vt. Guard officials are not certain how many are still getting medical treatment or how many are suffering from invisible wounds, like post-traumatic stress disorder. Ed is the only Vt. Guard soldier still getting treatment in San Antonio. With grueling, daily therapy, he eventually made it one-tenth of a mile around the track. But that would be as far as Ed would go.

"My balance isn't exactly the best," he said.

He told us during our last visit two years ago he planned to run again.

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

But so far that hasn't happened.

Reporter Darren Perron: Do you anticipate that day will come?

Marie Black: Well, he will have to work very, very hard. And based on his current status, it doesn't seem he will reach the running goal unless he is able to put all of his energy all of his efforts and all his priority into strengthening up.

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Dr. Raul Marin: I would bet that would not be within his reach.

Darren Perron: If you had a patient to prove you wrong, would it be Ed?

Dr. Raul Marin: Yeah, he's already done it in many aspects.

Wounded servicemen and women can continue to get free treatment at CFI as long they're improving. Ed's still getting help with small tasks at CFI, but work to help him walk and run is over for now.

Darren Perron: Do you think that will happen?

Ed Matayka: I had a feeling that might come up. It is not as big of a priority right now.

Ed had to give up on that dream. He doesn't have the time needed to devote to such demanding therapy. And that's because Ed and Karen made another dream come true: Alana Marie and Ryan David.

"We are looking forward to children," Karen told us in November 2011. "Initially, Ed wanted six children when he woke up from his coma, he's dialed back to a more reasonable three. I think I can handle that."

About a year after that interview, fertilization treatments helped the couple get pregnant. And then came twins-- a little boy and a little girl.

"I have been looking forward to parenting for years," Ed said. "Still scarier than heck."

Double duty for two soldiers with so much heart.

"For me there was no better joy," Ed said.

Related Stories:

A Soldier's Heart, Part 2

A Soldier's Heart, Part 3

A Soldier's Heart: WCAX team on wounded Vermont soldier

Battle After War, Part 1

Battle After War, Part 2

Wounded soldier greets comrade who saved his life

Wounded Vt. warrior awaits comrades' return

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