Reservist works hard to overcome battlefield injury

By Tyler Hemstreet on December 26, 2011

As Tech. Sgt. Keith Sekora coasted across the finish line of the 2011 Iraq/Afghanistan Run for Remembrance on his recumbent bicycle, a great sense of accomplishment washed over him.
The 446th Civil Engineering Squadron Reservist successfully completed the 5K race, part of the Seattle Marathon, over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. It was one of the first major milestones on the 41-year-old Airman’s road to recovery from a devastating battlefield injury he sustained last year during a deployment to Afghanistan.
“I’ve lost a lot of my (physical) freedoms,” said Sekora, a 6-foot-6 rock of a man who played lacrosse at the University of Maryland in his younger days. “My entire life has changed.”
While working as part of an explosives ordinance disposal unit during a Nov. 2010 deployment, an explosion sent a piece of debris flying that struck Sekora in the neck, just above his shoulder blade. The impact tore his left vestibular artery.
“From getting knocked down to being here today is a blur,” said Sekora, who spent 10 years on active duty in the Army working as a bomb dog handler before coming to the 446th Airlift Wing in 2005.
While Skekora was conscious on the ride back to his forward operating base, about seven hours later he suffered the first of four strokes.
“After four strokes, they told me I shouldn’t have made it,” said Sekora, who also works as a deputy for the King County Sheriffs Department.
After months of extensive therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Sekora is now living back at his home in Issaquah. But the effects of the accident remain with him. The Reservist suffers from memory loss, post-traumatic stress disorder, vertigo and numbness in various parts of the left side of his body. One of the worst incidents included a bout of hiccups that lasted for 18 days, as his injury prevented his body from getting over them.
“It was horrible,” he said. “It got to the point where I was laying in my bed counting them as they came on in four-second bouts.”
Doctors had to give him a dose of medicine to stop the hiccups.
While one of his fellow deputies moved in with him to help with care, things haven’t been easy. Sekora has had to learn how to walk, chew and use his arm again. He’s in the process of being medically retired from both the Air Force and his job as a deputy.
“Now I get to figure out what I can do with the next part of my life,” he said.
Despite all the setbacks, Sekora continues to fight to get back the physical piece of his life he misses so much. The Warrior Transition Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord lent him the recumbent bike to compete in the 5K, and thanks to a grant from Operation Ward 57, Sekora is in the process of getting his own custom-made bike from a shop in Lakewood.
“We want to do as much as we can to help wounded Servicemembers get out and live a normal, active life,” said Brittney Hamilton, Operation Ward 57’s executive director.
Hamilton participated in the 5K run with Sekora and another Airman, Tech. Sgt. Chris Wolff, who completed the race in a wheelchair.
“It was pretty awesome to see them out there,” Hamilton said. “It was my first 5K, and seeing those guys participate is what got me through it.”
While the recovery process is slow, Sekora is making great strides. He participated in an adaptive sports clinic in Port Hueneme, Calif., earlier this year, and can’t wait to get out on his new bike and tackling as many events for wounded warriors as he can.
“I’m looking forward to doing more physical activity,” he said.

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