Matt and Tracy Keil: An American story
PARKER - Matt Keil knows people want to pity him. After all, he figures, that's what people do when they see a veteran in a wheelchair.
He knows there are doubts. He knows people have questions. And he knows there are some who will openly wonder if he's ready to become a father.
He thinks about that word "father" for a moment, and then he smiles.
"I think we will take great pleasure in proving those people wrong," he says, as he takes a look at his wife Tracy.
If there were an Olympics for proving people wrong, Matt and Tracy likely would have taken the gold medal years ago. It's the inevitable conclusion, they say, of a strong relationship that was built largely on the back of chaos.
Six weeks after Matt and Tracy were married on a cold and snowy Colorado day in 2007, a sniper's bullet pieced the Army Staff Sergeant's neck while he and other Fort Carson soldiers were on patrol in Iraq. At the time, doctors were quick to tell Tracy it was a "Christopher Reeve-type injury."
Quadriplegics can't become fathers: That's what Matt originally thought. And so, he and Tracy attempted to move on with their lives, believing that parenthood was going to have to be a dream that would go unfulfilled.
The nonprofit "Homes for Our Troops" built the couple a home in east Parker in 2008. There, the couple found a comforting sense of anonymity in the hills of Douglas County. They continued to travel, finding time to enjoy the beaches of Mexico and the mountains of Colorado. Matt found ways to continue his passion for hunting. Tracy found time to work with other spouses of wounded veterans.
Yet deep down, they continued to think about it. Why can't we? Why shouldn't we? And then last year, Tracy and Matt decided to try in-vitro fertilization. And for some reason, on the first try, it worked.
"For those people who are wondering, they're ours," Tracy says.
"Yep," replies Matt.
Two embryos were implanted. One, for one reason or another, apparently decided on its own to split. Thus, the Keil's entered the initial stages of the pregnancy worrying about the potential pitfalls of having triplets.
"It is scary. I mean, I am scared because I'm in a wheelchair and I do worry about some of the things that I won't be able to do with my kids," Matt told us last summer. "But ultimately there are still some things that I will be able to do with them."
"I don't look at us any differently than any other couple raising a family. So he's in a wheelchair. So what? That's not going to have an impact on him being a dad at all," said Tracy.
And yet, as the pregnancy progressed, they continued to see the stares. They continued to feel the sympathy. How were they going to do it? Triplets? He's a quad. He can't pick up his kids. How on Earth will this work?
They just continued thinking about how great it was going to be when they finally proved all of those people wrong.
And then there was a complication, a big complication. One of the triplet's blood supply was intertwined with another's. Doctors told them it was twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. They flew Tracy out to Seattle for an emergency surgery. At first, they thought the surgery was a success. A week later, they learned differently.
"This has just really messed with my mind," confessed Tracy in September. "I just thought that this'll be smooth because of everything we've already been through. I really wasn't expecting that."
One of the boys had passed.
"When we learned the news," Matt told us, "we went home, sat on the couch and just spent a lot of time together."
They will tell you now their friendship was what kept them together, both mentally and physically.
"[Tracy] put every part of her being, every part of herself into making sure that I got better [after the injury], that I didn't turn into one of those veterans who sulked in a corner somewhere," he says.
Matt says he took comfort in simply trying to comfort his wife during the most difficult days of the pregnancy.
On November 9, 2010, Matt and Tracy welcomed Matt Jr. and Faith into this world. They came early, incredibly early, two-and-a-half months early to be exact.
Both were about as small as you would expect, coming in at close to three pounds. They spent weeks inside the NICU at Prebyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center before they were finally able to be transferred to a closer hospital, Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree.
The day after Christmas Day, doctors gave the go-ahead to take Faith home. Matt Jr. came home a few weeks later.
Today the two are healthy and happy babies, say Tracy and Matt. Many of the complications associated with premature births have passed. They say when the two are old enough, they'll tell them about the brother they lost along the way.
"You know, every day we're going to look at Matt Jr. and say we could have had a second son, but we also know we can't dwell on that," Matt said.
"There have been times when Tracy and I have asked, 'When is enough going to be enough? When are we going to catch a break?' But then we also look at the good things that have happened to us in our lives, and the good things have far outweighed the bad things," he adds.
And for that reason alone, he says, the pity parties and the sympathetic looks should come to an end.
Matt and Tracy say they are ready to move on with their lives with their two beautiful children. Matt's a father now. Tracy's a mother. They're pretty darn happy with their lives. And, quite frankly, with two newborns in the house they don't exactly have time to worry about what anyone else thinks.
Life is good, they say.
(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)