Six and a half weeks after he was shot in the neck by a sniper in Iraq and thought to be completely paralyzed from the shoulders down, Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Keil has a little twitch in his left thumb.
He can pick up his left wrist a bit and the rest of his arm more. He s been breathing without a ventilator for about three hours some days. He s eaten steaks and pizza.
That all gives his wife, Tracy, much hope that her 25-year-old husband might keep making improvements at a rehabilitation center in Tampa where they were flown Friday from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
Now we re on the road to rehab and one step closer to home, she said yesterday. That s why we re excited.
She expects Sergeant Keil, who was injured six weeks after they were married, to be in James A. Haley Veterans Hospital for a few months. During that time, she s confident he ll be able to shed the ventilator.
Unlike at Walter Reed, he s not in a critical care unit in Tampa. That s a relief, Mrs. Keil said, because he s no longer hooked up to all the bells and whistles and is not disturbed as frequently for checks.
On Easter, he got a shower for the first time since he was injured in late February.
Matt said the shower felt really good, Mrs. Keil wrote in a daily journal she s been posting to www.caringbridge.org/visit/matthewkeil, which has gotten more than 15,000 hits.
Yesterday, he was reading messages that well-wishers posted to the site. His room in Tampa is the first of the many hospital rooms he s been in that has Internet access.
With his wife there to scroll down the screen for him, Sergeant Keil was able to read greetings sent to him from family and friends in northwest Ohio, where he graduated from Anthony Wayne High School in 2000, from Colorado Springs where he and his wife live near Fort Carson, and from fellow servicemen around the world.
The fact that Sergeant Keil s mind is good that he can read, enjoy movies and televised sports, and converse is one of the family s greatest blessings, his wife said.
That s hit home with her as she s met other soldiers who have suffered traumatic brain injuries and paralysis.
Conversation, however, isn t easy. Occasionally, Sergeant Keil is able to talk. Most of the time, family and friends read his lips, and difficulties in doing so have been one of his biggest frustrations.
It s one of many big challenges he s faced.
He had surgery March 21 to repair an aneurysm, even as he still battled fevers. He s had a temporary pacemaker, which was removed last week and gone on and off numerous medications, some of which have left him exhausted.
The same day his pacemaker was removed, Sergeant Keil was wheeled outside for the first time since he arrived at Walter Reed on Feb. 27.
It was so nice to see him outside, his wife wrote. It gave her big plans for their time in Florida.
I want to take him to the beach, or at least a pier until we get those off-road tires for the wheelchair, she wrote.
Once Sergeant Keil is stronger, she hopes they can make an even bigger splash. Because he was in critical care, he didn t get to meet President Bush when he was at Walter Reed recently because the unit could not be secured.
If someone was to code, everyone would go nuts and the Secret Service would probably jump on the President to cover him while all the staff is actually running to save someone in the other room, Mrs. Keil wrote, explaining that there was too much commotion in the critical care unit for a presidential visit.
But she went on to say, The way I see it, Matt and I will probably meet a President someday while we are lobbying for money for spinal cord or stem-cell research.
Contact Jane Schmucker at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-337-7780.