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A paralyzed Iraq veteran's journey to fatherhood

8:35 AM, Feb 15, 2011   |    comments
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No, it was more of a: "Holy cow, I can't believe this is happening to you" kind of laughter. It was nervous laughter.

The kind of laughter one generally hears right after a moment of uncomfortable silence.

There was almost a rhythm to it, say Matt and Tracy Keil. The conversations were so similar.

"Hey, [fill in the name of close family friend or family member]. So we've got some news to tell you," Tracy Keil would say.

"What's that?" the person would reply.

"We're expecting."

"That's great news!"

"There's more."

"What's that?"

"We're having triplets."

Cue the moment of uncomfortable silence followed by the nervous laughter.

Tracy Keil doesn't need to guess as to why it always seemed to happen. Matt Keil is a quadriplegic. On Feb. 24, 2007, her husband was shot in the neck while on patrol near Ramadi, Iraq. It happened six weeks after the two were married on a snowy Colorado day.

Shortly after that, she gained an uncanny ability to read people's minds, at least the minds of people within eyesight of her husband in his wheelchair.

"Oh, it must be tough," they would think. "Wow, how do they do it?"

The Keils have repeatedly told themselves, and anyone else for that matter, that they want nothing to do with the sympathies that constantly surround them.

"We'll figure this out" - if Matt and Tracy Keil had a motto, then that was it.

Quadriplegia? We'll figure it out. Wheelchair? We'll figure it out.

So when the doctor told them she was pregnant with triplets in May of last year, Matt and Tracy Keil told themselves they would figure it out.

"When I was shot that day, and I didn't die, I looked at myself and said, 'I'm not done on this earth,'" Matt Keil said.

Not done. Not yet. Not even close, he figured.

9NEWS followed Matt and Tracy Keil around for nine months as the couple went through some of the most joyous and painful months of their lives.

Having a family was something the two had grown quite used to talking about. The first time I heard them talk about it was the second time I had the chance to sit down with them. It was back in 2007, and Matt Keil was still at Craig Hospital.

"We want to have kids," they told me.

I wondered if it was possible. I wondered if a quad could have kids. I wondered if they were ready for it.

But every time after that they simply managed to repeat any number of slight variations of that line: "We want to have a family."

In June 2010, Tracy Keil called me. She asked me how I was doing. I had just had a child myself - my first.

It had been a difficult stretch of weeks, I won't lie. I told her about all of that sleep my wife and I weren't getting. I told her how the cries of a newborn can be quite deafening at times.

About 10 minutes into the conversation, she stopped me.

"Chris, I've got some news to tell you," she said.

I wish I wouldn't have let out that nervous laugh. I wish I would have just told them something on par with "congratulations."

But I did what about 95 percent of the rest of them did.

Thankfully, she was kind. Doctors had implanted two embryos, she told me. One clearly decided to split.

I didn't ask about the rest of it, but I could tell others had.

"Yes, they're ours," she said.

Then I did something that is always present in my mind as a reporter. I asked Tracy if we could do a story on this.

She said, "Sure."

9NEWS Photojournalist Corky Scholl and I started shooting this story in June of last year.

At its heart, I believe, is the core of what makes a parent a parent and a father a father.

"It is scary. I am scared," Matt told us early on. "I'm in a wheelchair, and I do worry about some things that I won't be able to do with my kids, but ultimately there are still some things that I will be able to do with them."

"What kind of dad am I going to be to these kids because I am disabled?" he asked us.

Tracy had zero doubt.

"He's going to be great," she kept on telling us. "He'll teach our kids a lot about patience and a lot about acceptance."

When we started this we had no idea about how it was all going to turn out. We had no idea that Tracy would lose one of the triplets early on (much of the blame was to be found in something called twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome).

We had no idea that doctors would order hospitalized bed rest for her at 26 weeks. And we had no idea that their boy and girl would be born at 29 weeks. Any parent-to-be knows 40 weeks is full term.

Both Matt Jr. and Faith came in at close to 3 pounds each.

We watched the babies as they continued to grow in the NICU's at both Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center and Skyridge Hospital (they moved the twins at one point so they could be closer to home).

We watched when Faith came home the hospital first. Matt Jr. followed her a few weeks later.

Tracy and Matt tell me they're both doing great now.

What you see in our story is a small sampling of what we collected along the way. There are hours and hours of video that could not make it into a story that is just a part of nightly newscast.

I am so thankful Tracy and Matt agreed to let us be a part of it.

As for those of you who are still wondering if they're truly ready for this, Matt and Tracy will tell you of course they aren't.

"What parent really is ever ready for this?" Matt told me as he looked at his wife. "But as long as we have each other, we'll get through anything."

This is why he is still here, Matt will tell you. This is why he made it out of Iraq alive.

For more on Matt and Tracy Keil, you can read their journal at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/matthewkeil.

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