Spouse Caregivers: Adapting to a new role -- Long road back to San Antonio
December 14, 2012
- Spouse Caring for wounded warrior (second in a series of 3)
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO -- Thirteen years ago, two young Soldiers met during combat medic training at Fort Sam Houston. More than a decade later, they returned for a very different reason.
Army Sgts. Ed and Karen Matayka are currently at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston because Ed is undergoing treatment at the Center for the Intrepid for injuries he received in Afghanistan.
Both Ed and Karen are medics with the Vermont National Guard's 186th Brigade Support Battalion.
The couple was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, when the armored vehicle Ed was riding in struck a roadside bomb.
"I was on the same base that Ed was, but they didn't notify me right away because his injuries were so severe that they didn't expect him to survive his first surgery," Karen said. "They waited until five hours later to come get me, and tell me what had happened."
Both of Matayka's feet were blown off, he suffered multiple fractures in his back and a severe head injury.
"Ed was so unstable when he was wounded that they had a hard time getting him back stateside," Karen said quietly, remembering their long journey and how far they have come.
The trip took four days with Karen by his side. Their first stop was Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a day and a half. Then he was transferred to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. because of his severe brain injury.
"We were at Bethesda for three months while he recovered," Karen said. "Half of that time he was in a coma."
"I would always hold on to the smallest little thing," she said thinking back to when Ed was in the beginning stages of his recovery process.
"When Ed was in the coma he was on a ventilator. I would check to see what rate they had him breathing at. Then I would check his actual physical rate. He was always over breathing the ventilator, so I knew he was breathing on his own," Karen said.
"That tiny piece of information gave me hope to know he was going to get better.
"The first two weeks were touch-and-go. Then we started to notice little pieces of Ed emerging from the coma. His personality was coming through even though he was just laying there," Karen said.
The doctor's tried to get Ed's spinal fractures to heal naturally, but he wasn't getting enough nutrients while he was in the coma, so he ended up having spinal fusion surgery three months after his injury.
Following the spinal surgery, Ed went to Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Va. for six months for his brain injury rehabilitation.
"We met with his primary care doctor toward the end of his rehab there," she said.
The doctor told the couple that he didn't think Ed would ever walk again.
"We fought really hard to get him sent to another rehab facility," Karen said.
The Mataykas then went to the Boston VA Hospital where Ed underwent spinal cord injury rehabilitation and received prosthetics.
"When Ed started walking they asked us where we wanted to go," Karen said. "We requested to come to San Antonio, because of the CFI, knowing that it's the best rehab facility in the country."
"Karen has been just an absolute godsend," Ed said, explaining that they spend almost every waking moment together, "more than any couple should," he laughs.
"Our relationship has gotten a hell of a lot stronger. That's because of changes in my own personality and changes we have had to make to accommodate the curveball that life has dealt us at this point."
The couple has been here since August 2011 and plans to make San Antonio their home.
When their unit returned home from deployment, the couple traveled to Vermont to greet them.
"There were plenty of hugs," Karen said, laughing. "They were all surprised at how well Ed was doing."
"My wife is still a motherly figure to the guys that were deployed with us," Ed said.
These days the Mataykas spend their spare time driving around San Antonio getting lost, going out to eat or visiting with other wounded warriors and their families at the Warrior and Family Support Center.
"We just laugh at ourselves all the time. We have fun together," she said smiling about their adventures.
While Ed concentrates on continuing his rehabilitation, Karen is busy preparing for the birth of twins.
"I want to make sure we have two happy and healthy babies," Ed said. "Once that's all done and they grow up a little bit, we will start volunteering around the community. We really want to give back, because we love the military."
"The big goal for us is kids. We have always wanted kids," Karen said. "Then the next big thing is getting a house that is suitable for our needs."