SAN ANTONIO -- The only thing he remembered was waking up five weeks later in Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany --from a tragedy that nearly cost him his life and the chance of starting a family. THE BEGINNING Thirteen years ago, Ed and Karen Matayka, both combat medics with the Vermont National Guard, met and fell in love during their advanced training course at what is now Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Soon after, they married in 2004 and deployed together six months later to Kuwait in 2005.
"We honeymooned in Kuwait," said Karen.
They returned to Vermont a year later and were activated again in 2010 to go to Afghanistan, but this time they promised each other they would start a family after their deployment. Just after four months in theater, those plans looked to be lost. In July 2010, Ed was on a convoy mission in Afghanistan when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device that caused multiple injuries to his body, including the loss of his legs, fractures to his spinal cord, a traumatic brain injury, and two strokes that caused nerve damage to his left side of the body. The blast also killed his driver, Spc. Ryan Grady, and wounded four other Vermont Soldiers. "The doctors told me he probably won't survive," Karen recalled.
Because of the severity of his multiple injuries, he was treated and transferred to several military medical centers across the country before he was transferred to San Antonio Military Medical Center, or SAMMC. Brooke Army Medical Center, or BAMC, is used to refer to the Army component of SAMMC. "BAMC is the best place for amputee rehab, (so) we needed to get Ed here," Karen said.
Ed has been rehabilitating at the CFI, BAMC's outpatient rehab center, since August 2011. He is now learning to walk again.
IN VITRO FERTILIZATION
Even though their plans of starting a family were temporarily on hold, their desire to start a family was never in question.
"We really wanted to have a family long before this happened, and we are not going to let his injuries change our plans," said Karen. "We had decided together that we wanted kids --- we just wanted to share some love, help guide the next generation," Ed added.
They turned to in vitro fertilization in hopes of making their dreams of a family a reality. The IVF process is a procedure in which eggs are removed and joined with a sperm outside of the body to fertilize and the resulting embryo is then placed back into the uterus. They first started the IVF process, at the Boston's veteran hospital where Ed was receiving his spinal cord rehab -- but because of the complexity of the injuries, the procedure was not successful. After eight months of rehab at SAMMC, and with Ed gaining more strength and independence, they decided to try again. "We were initially told we had to pay for it ourselves, which we were fine with, and we didn't care. We wanted to do it, and then we were told that TRICARE was working on a policy that would change its IVF coverage for service members with severe injuries," Karen said. A week before their IVF transfer, a bill was passed to cover reproductive services to active service members who have suffered from catastrophic injuries resulting in infertility. Since 2003, more than 1,800 U.S. military members have suffered injuries in Iraq or Afghanistan that impact their reproductive tract.
"TRICARE rules changed and we were 100 percent covered," said Karen. After their first attempt of the IVF transfer process, Karen became pregnant. Their twins, Ryan David and Alana Marie, were born March 21, at 28 weeks. "The babies were born ahead of time but are doing very well here (SAMMC neonatal intensive care unit)," Karen said.
Ed is the first wounded warrior, nationwide, who has successfully had the IVF transfer procedure since the new TRICARE policy was implemented. "It was an honor to help the Mataykas achieve their dream of having a family. They are true American heroes and having the opportunity to directly help our wounded warriors represents the most rewarding aspect of our profession," said Maj. (Dr.) Jeremy King, director of IVF, who performed their transfer. Although their desire of starting a family was finally complete, they will never forget the tragedy that happened almost two years ago. "We named our boy after Ryan, the driver who passed away from the blast and David who saved Ed's life by applying tourniquets to his legs," Karen said. "They are our true heroes." Both praised the care they received throughout the procedure. "The care here is great. The reproductive and endocrinology staff is phenomenal," Karen added, as Ed also agreed. "The entire staff is extremely caring and we all bonded throughout the whole process. We greatly appreciate everyone's care." "We have already referred two other warriors of the services here at SAMMC," Ed said. "The Matayka were a pleasure to work with," said King. "IVF process is physically and emotionally challenging, but their attitude was always upbeat, positive and optimistic. That, I believe, helped them get through the obstacles and also lifted up our spirits whenever we saw them." THE SERVICE
The In Vitro Fertilization and Reproductive Endocrinology services had been offered at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center since 1996. The program relocated to SAMMC in June 2011 due to the Base Realignment and Closure law.
SAMMC's IVF program offers the full gamut of diagnostic testing and infertility therapy treatments in the same location. "We have over 1,000 babies as a result of our IVF program and it is the only onsite full service IVF center staffed solely by active duty physicians in Department of Defense," said Col. (Dr.) Matthew Retzloff, Reproductive Endocrinology chief. "We offer this service to active duty members and their dependents, on site at SAMMC, from start to finish." Reproductive endocrinologists provide full evaluation and treatment of all forms of infertility, polycystic ovarian disease, premature ovarian failure, hirsutism, recurrent pregnancy loss, reproductive tract anatomic abnormalities, endometriosis, premenstrual syndrome and complicated menopausal problems.