Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Back in the Air - Final Post

Kyle flew in an HH-60 Pavehawk today!  It was his first flight back since his injury in Afghanistan on June 19, 2010.  He has stayed focused, determined and worked very hard to get to where he is today.  His mindset is to leave the past behind him and move forward.  And he is doing just that.  Kyle was very excited to get back up in the air and felt much support from the community at Moody.   

He started the flight in the back of the helicopter sitting in the gunner's position.  After a few hours they swapped crews and he flew up front with Josh Shonkwiler, who was instructing him during this ride.  Shonkwiler visited Kyle when he was in Bethesda and said he wanted to fly with him in one of his first flights back.  The flight went very well, despite the heavy winds and recent passing thunderstorms throughout the southeast today.  And upon returning to base, members of his squadron met him out on the flight line to congratulate him - truly an awesome day. 

Kyle texted me this photograph at the start of his flight today from the gunner's seat in the helicopter with this message attached:  "Suck it Taliban".  

Kyle will fly for the next several months with instructor pilots to get all of his qualifications current.  He will work to get current on all maneuvers in the air and for ground training.  It's such an exciting time and one that we often weren't sure would ever happen again after June 19th.  At Kyle's last and final visit at Bethesda Naval Hospital, the doctors told him his injury was a level 3B, which is the second worst possible scenario.  His recovery and ability to get back in the cockpit are truly a miracle and very admirable.

Recently Kyle received some photographs from one of his doctors over in Afghanistan when he arrived in Bagram.  I wanted to share a few of those here in this last post because they were special moments for Kyle and show some of the wonderful people who cared for him while overseas.

Kyle with a team of nurses and doctors after he arrived in Bagram - showing Dr. Vandehoef on the right who was a memorable doctor for Kyle always telling him the honest truth about his medical condition and the one who emailed him these photographs.  

Kyle being awarded the Purple Heart while in Bagram - a special photograph we treasure having today. 

It has been a pleasure to document Kyle's successful year of progress.  On days when we weren't sure what was happening it wasn't always easy to write about it publicly.  However, this experience has brought us all closer together and made us stronger; and Kyle continues to want to go back to exactly how life always used to be for him - quiet, humble, personal and in the air.

But it is with an even greater pleasure that I end the blog with some recent portraits done on the flight line with Kyle at Moody AFB and end this Road to Recovery.  Congratulations Kyle on such an amazing and successful recovery, you truly are an inspiration.

Kyle in front of one of the Pavehawks that was out on the flight line one recent weekend after he had been cleared back to flight status.  

Three Pavehawks out on the flight line.  

Inside the helicopter, looking at the co-pilot side of the helicopter where Kyle was sitting when shot in Afghanistan. 

The Jolly Green emblem on the side of the helicopter for the 41st Rescue Squadron.  

Kyle stands by the green feet showing his leg that has healed miraculously after returning from a walk out on the flight line.  

Kyle, now back to being a happy and healthy pilot and back in his flight suit.  Looking good!  

And a list of Thank Yous are in order (it's impossible to reach everyone, but I hope each and every one of you know how much gratitude we all want to express to you):  Thank you to the crew of Kyle's helicopter, the brave PJ aboard who saved his life immediately with a tourniquet, and then the incredible doctors, nurses and staff members in Afghanistan, Germany and in the United States - your remarkable work is what saved Kyle's life and his leg.  Thank you to the air crews who flew him home safely and quickly.  Thank you to all of Kyle's family, Elsie, Bill, Kathryn and Sarah, Aunts, Uncles, Grampa Deem and cousins - you all opened your hearts and home to me for the entire year and supported Kyle every day in every way possible.  Thank you to Kyle's home health nurses, his physical therapists and amazing neighbor Jess, you all cared for Kyle while he was in Pittsburgh helping his leg heal and giving him strength and confidence throughout his recovery.  Thank you to all of Kyle's closest friends from home in Pittsburgh and his fellow colleagues and classmates throughout the military - you all supported him with visits to the hospital and his home, emails, letters, phone calls and texts that made a difference in life every day.  And you also welcomed me into your lives, which was incredible.  Thank you to all visitors in Bethesda and Pittsburgh who helped with rides to and from the airport, provided meals in the hospital, making Kyle's home handicap accessible, providing meals to the entire Deem family while home and for keeping Kyle in your prayers.  Thank you to other military family members in the hospital who endured much during their time spent in the hospital but also offered support to us while we were there - our prayers are always with you and your families.  Thank you to the supportive community in Pittsburgh including the American Legion, the VA and the Pittsburgh Steelers - you lifted Kyle up at times he really needed it most.  Thank you to news reporters who shared an accurate story for Kyle and for those groups who encouraged Kyle to share his story publicly.  Thank you to the amazing community at Moody AFB who called us the day we found out about Kyle and continued to offer support in any way they could with emails, phone calls and then spouses filling up Kyle's fridge with food when he first moved home.  Thank you to those who watched over the Deems house in Pittsburgh and Kyle's house in Georgia while everyone was away from home.  And thank you to my Mom and Dad, family, friends and co-workers - Kyle and I have been so blessed to have your support and love and I couldn't have done it without you. 

Wishing you all a wonderful year ahead and blue skies ahead for Kyle.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Heading Home to Georgia

Kyle has made remarkable progress and was able to enjoy a wonderful holiday season with his family and close friends.  He drove down to Valdosta, GA this week with his friend Jon Trzeciak and arrived last night!  He will be moving back into his home this weekend and hopefully getting back to work soon too.  It's a wonderful celebratory time, but also the end of a nice chapter spent at home with family and so much daily support.

It's getting close to time to wind down the blog, since Kyle has come so far in his recovery.  It may take a while for him to really reach 100%, but we all agree, that his recovery from this injury could not have gone smoother.  He walks unassisted and even started jogging for one minute at therapy in Pittsburgh.

Kyle has stayed determined and positive and he has really taken control of his own healing mentally and physically.  It has been quite something to witness and I know everyone is so proud of his success and we are all constantly impressed.  It will be nice to see him in his flightsuit again.

The Deem Family, all together after Christmas due to the big snow storm that hit New York.  From left, Kyle, Sarah, Elsie, Kathryn and Bill. 

I got a chance to see all the Deems too, it was wonderful to all be together outside of the hospital in Bethesda and have Kyle standing with us.  Photo by Elsie Deem.

Kyle cleaning around his room the day after New Years starting to pack up for his road trip to Georgia. 

Kyle packs up the rental car with help from his family and friends.  Photo by Elsie Deem. 

Kyle and Tree all packed up and ready to hit the road on Wednesday morning.  Photo by Elsie Deem.

Kyle's parents, Elsie and Bill, saw him off as he pulled out of Hillview Drive.  His good friend Dave also came by to send him off.  
Elsie gives Kyle a huge hug; it has been a special time for them to share together.  Kyle really needed his mom again this year, and she did an amazing job caring for him.  She and Bill made sure to feed him well, give him plenty of rest and be positive forces for him to lean on during the last six months. 
Kyle and Tree pulling out of the driveway.  Photo by Elsie Deem.  

"I'm home!" Kyle texted yesterday afternoon with this picture when he first got to Valdosta.  It's great to see you standing in front of your home again Kyle.  Photo by Jon Trzeciak. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Walking Along

Kyle has made great progress and is getting around pretty well these days.  He uses crutches if he needs to stand or walk around for a while, but he walks around the house without any assistance and often just uses a cane.  He is certainly nearing the end of his recovery and plans to move back to Valdosta and report to Moody AFB in January.  The details for how things will go when he returns still remain somewhat uncertain, but I know he is determined to get back in that cock pit. 

Kyle did get a chance to visit Valdosta over a weekend and attend his squadron Christmas party.  He saw his house for the first time since May, which I know felt really good.  He also reported back to Bethesda and saw his orthopedic surgeon for follow up after his last surgery.  The reports are good and his bone is healing very well.  He does not need to wear the compression boot at all anymore. 

Kyle continues physical therapy three days a week in Pittsburgh and is still improving his balance, walking and strength.  He is sure to enjoy his time through the holidays with his close friends and family in Pittsburgh, who have all supported him daily throughout his recovery.  It won't be long before we wrap up the blog, but I think we'll wait until we see Kyle back in uniform again! 

 Kyle going into his house in Valdosta for the first time since May. 

 Recent x-rays of Kyle's right leg without any external fixators.  There still is a lot of visible shrapnel in his leg and some shadows where the pins from the Taylor Spatial frame were located.  But Kyle's orthopedic surgeon is very pleased with his bone healing.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Taylor Spatial Frame Removed

Kyle and his parents drove down to Bethesda on Monday, November 15th.  It was time to get the Taylor Spatial Frame removed.  He was scheduled for pre-op appointments on Tuesday and then was set up for surgery on Thursday.  I arrived on Wednesday evening and had the opportunity to be with Kyle and his parents for this monumental surgery. 

It was a huge success!  We now see Kyle wearing normal pants, walking around like any other guy on crutches, and quite frankly, it feels good for everyone.  Seeing him without the frame has brought us all more relief and excitement than we expected.  Life is starting to take a turn back to what we used to know, and that is the most wonderful blessing. 

Kyle's leg in the Taylor Spatial Frame right before surgery.

Kyle sitting in the waiting area before going in for surgery to remove the frame.  

Kyle leaving the out-patient surgical ward at NNMC after the successful removal of the Taylor Spatial Frame.  He had many people helping him afterwards and he left with a large compression boot on his foot that he is supposed to wear when outside of home.  

Elsie and Bill's neighbors cooked dinner with enchiladas, complete with a chocolate cake dessert, and home-made welcome home signs from their children for Kyle after his final surgery in Bethesda.  The food and support has been amazing, and this sure was a special evening and it was very much appreciated, thank you.  

Kyle begins to unwrap the dressing of his leg late Saturday morning.  

Kyle cutting away the dressing while sitting in the living room.

Kyle looks over to his mom, Elsie, father Bill, and good friend and neighbor, Jess, with a huge smile on his face after undressing his leg for the first time after his surgery.  It is the first time any of us have seen his leg bare without any metal sticking out of it and without any bandages since before his deployment in May.  Needless to say, it was amazing.  

Kyle happily checks out his leg.  

Kyle's leg with the bloody pin holes showing, but the leg is looking great.  

Elsie and Kyle take a moment to look at his leg and feel some relief.  It has been a long road for all, and today was a remarkable day.  Congratulations Kyle for a wonderful battle that you have successfully conquered.  We are all so tremendously proud of you. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

New Moves at Therapy

Kyle has been to nearly 40 physical therapy sessions since July 28, 2010.  His right leg has come such a long way since those first appointments.  He wasn't able to even touch his foot to the ground without extreme pain.  He now walks around at the start of his therapy without using a cane to warm up.  He uses a stair master with ease, a leg press and other ankle and leg strengthening exercises.  Currently, Kyle is focusing on the specific mobility of his right ankle, working on flexibility with rotation in the ankle joint and stretching the tendons in his foot, toes and leg. 

Kyle stands on a board with a small ball underneath it and tries to balance on his right leg.  

Kyle stands on his right leg on a pillowcase with a gel-like material in it, which creates an uneven surface and a difficult place to balance; and Kris has his close his eyes to make it even more challenging as she stands by for support in case he loses his balance.  

Kris stretches Kyle's right leg to work out the tendons and tightness in his ankle.  

Kris stretching out Kyle's ankle.  

Leaving therapy using a cane, which is a huge step for Kyle since it's a very long distance to get to his therapy office and he needed to use a wheel chair for a long time. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Graft Healing and Pill Counting

Kyle is healing very well!  He only has 13 more days until his surgery to have the spatial frame removed.  He is managing his pain well on most days and is getting around with a cane usually.  His grafts are healing well and he doesn't need to wear a bandage on the inside of his leg anymore.

 The outside of Kyle's right leg with graft site healing well. 

The inside of Kyle's right leg, with the wound healing up very nicely.  

Tracking the progression of the healing of the inside right leg graft site.  It's come a long way! 

Kyle's nearly empty pill counter for the week.  He uses this to track his pain meds, aspirin and vitamins, which helps a lot as he weens himself off the pain medication.  He is almost entirely off of it, and that's due to his strong will to get back to his normal life.   

Kyle counts out the pills at the start of every week and decreases his dosage of meds as part of a "step down" program recommended by his pain doctors in Bethesda.  Photo by Elsie Deem.  

Counting out the pills.  

Full case for the week. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Big Steps

Kyle has had a great few weeks recovering.  His progress is very impressive, as are his recent doctor reports from Bethesda.  He has been walking around pretty regularly, using crutches and a cane and has been successfully weening himself off of much of his pain medication.  He looks great and more and more like his old self every day.  It's wonderful to see that full, happy face again.  

Kyle and his parents returned to Bethesda this week to meet with his orthopedic surgeons to evaluate the healing of the bones in his right leg.  Dr. Fleming and Dr. Waterman were very pleased with his progression and they have given an approximate time frame for Kyle's final healing phase with the Taylor Spatial Frame.  They told him his bone was strong enough now to bear the weight of his body and they "unlocked" the six struts in the spatial frame.  This allows Kyle's leg to carry the weight, and not so much the frame.  They require the frame to be unlocked for 30 days prior to surgically removing it.  If Kyle is comfortable and continues to heal, they will plan to remove the Taylor Spatial Frame on November 18th.  The countdown is on!  

Kyle and his Dad, Bill, waiting in the exam room in Bethesda.  Photo by Elsie Deem.  

Kyle waiting peacefully in the exam room.  Photo by Elsie Deem.  

Kyle talking with the orthopedic surgeon's assistant.  Photo by Elsie Deem. 

An updated x-ray of Kyle's leg, showing his bones very well healed.  The doctors are confident Kyle can continue to heal and recover with the frame unlocked and are hopeful he will have a successful removal of the Taylor Spatial Frame on November 18th.  

The inside wound on Kyle's right leg has really diminished.  The treatment he has been giving it is really working and he hardly needs to wear a Bandaid anymore.  (Taken a few days before returning to Bethesda). 

Kyle's leg, an overview.  Also taken a few days before returning to Bethesda.  

The outside of Kyle's leg showing great progress on the large outer graft before the frame was unlocked.

The lower outside graft on Kyle's right leg - it is really looking like skin now.  

Kyle's leg with the frame after it has been unlocked - notice the colored numbers on the struts are no longer there.  Photo by Elsie Deem.  

Kyle walking around by the lake at Northemoreland Park - when he feels good he is able to get around short distances with his cane.