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A Soldier's Heart, Part 2 - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

A Soldier's Heart, Part 2

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SAN ANTONIO -

Karen Matayka doesn't get much down time.

"I wouldn't trade it for anything," she said.

Evenings are anything but easy. The Vermont National Guard medic traded in her military uniform to become a full-time caretaker for her husband, Ed.

"Karen does more than her fair share," Ed said.

Ed continues to battle back from life-threatening wounds he suffered in a bomb blast in Afghanistan. He lost both legs, suffered spinal fractures, a traumatic brain injury and two strokes. Karen was there serving, too. And she's been there all along helping Ed recover.

"Any other couple would have been destroyed by what he went through. The marriage would have fallen apart. And these two guys are just awesome. She's awesome," said Dr. Raul Marin of the Center for the Intrepid.

"We are actually doing extraordinarily well," Ed said.

Ed's dream to run again is on hold.

"I'm kind of at a standstill," he said.

He can't devote enough time to rehab because a different dream came true.

"The work is hard but it is worth it," Karen said.

The Mataykas used fertility treatments to get pregnant.

"All of the case managers were saying are you sure you want kids? You have a lot to deal with with Ed," Karen said. "I always said we wanted kids before the injury, why would I let that change anything?"

Alana and Ryan David were born in March. They came early-- very early.

"And I started to bleed," Karen said.

Karen knew something was terribly wrong. Her medical training kicked in and she drove herself to the hospital.

"Sixteen minutes after I got to the hospital both Alana and Ryan had been born," Karen said.

She got there just in time. Doctors say Karen almost bled out, losing two liters of blood. She and the twins almost died.

"I nearly lost my entire family," Ed said.

The twins were three months premature and the first six hours were touch and go. Ed says the pain and suffering he went through after the explosion paled in comparison.

"That's nothing compared to feeling helpless and hopeless," he said.

It would be nearly a week before Ed and Karen could hold the twins.

"She was so tiny and I was afraid I was going to hurt her. I pulled her in and it was breathtaking absolutely wonderful," Karen said.

"They are just so small and seem so fragile," Ed said.

But, like their parents, the twins are fighters. And nearly eight months later...

"They are fat happy babies!" Karen laughed.

Ed and Karen had no trouble picking names. They liked the Alana, and Ryan David honors two other Vermont Guard soldiers.

"To always have a reminder of them with us was very important," Ed said.

Ryan is after Sgt. Ryan Grady of West Burke, who was killed in the same blast that critically wounded Ed in July 2010. And middle name David is for Sgt. David Schwerer, who tied the tourniquets after Ed's legs were blown off, saving his life by stopping massive blood loss.

"If it wasn't for him, Ed wouldn't be here and neither would they," Karen said.

And Ed has another reminder, too, a bracelet he always wears bearing Ryan Grady's name.

"The greatest casualty is being forgotten and that is very true," Ed said.

Two babies and a wounded war vet may seem like a lot on one person's plate. But Karen says she feels lucky to still have Ed and to have her two little angels.

"My heart wants to explode every time I look at them," she said.

Ed helps Karen where he can.

"I make bottles. I feed. I burp," he said.

And they both love so much.

"They are the perfect expression of love that we have for each other, that we have for life," Karen said.

"They are just wonderful," Ed said. "They are the perfect mix of us."

But with the twins, the couple faced some tough choices. Ed stopped his grueling rehab to learn to walk. And Karen is giving up something, too. After more than 15 years in the military and just five years away from retirement, Karen has decided not to re-enlist with the Vermont National Guard. Instead, she Ed and the twins will remain here San Antonio, Texas.

"It was a very hard decision to make," she said.

She resigns from the Vermont National Guard in December. With uncertainty in the Middle East, Karen felt it best to get out.

"I cannot deploy again. There is no two ways around it. Not while caring for Ed and the babies," she said.

Ed sacrificed his dream to run again to instead work on gaining control of his left arm, damaged by the strokes, primarily to help out more around the house.

"Do I have the ability to do more? That remains to be seen," he said.

And caring for those babies ends the same way each night. After the feedings and diaper changes-- a poem.

"I love you both, like I love blueberry pancakes," Karen read.

"I love you both, like I love vanilla milkshakes," Ed read.

A story from these soldiers' hearts.

"I love you both, goodnight," Ed said. "Shhhh, you're all right sweetie."

Related Stories:

A Soldier's Heart, Part 1

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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