Welcoming a warrior

Army Cpl. Tyler Wilson was paralyzed from the waist down by a bullet during a firefight in Afghanistan. -- The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

Army Cpl. Tyler Wilson was paralyzed from the waist down by a bullet during a firefight in Afghanistan. -- The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

KAHULUI — A paralyzed Army veteran is enjoying his first vacation on Maui with his family, including a 5-month-old son born after a fight with the Department of Veterans Affairs over in vitro fertilization.

Army Cpl. Tyler Wilson, his wife, Crystal, and son, Matthew, arrived on the island Thursday on the last leg of a two-week vacation to Hawaii paid for by a veterans group from their home state of Colorado. Vacations for Warriors selected the family, which stirred a national debate last year when they sought financial help from the VA to cover in vitro fertilization.

The method is the only way Wilson, who was paralyzed from the waist down by a bullet during a firefight in Afghanistan, can produce a child. The VA does not fund the treatment, but was forced to temporarily lift the ban after the couple lobbied Congress.

The couple successfully had a child after eventually finding a private clinic in Denver that offered a discount on the procedure.

“After an incredibly difficult year in trying to have Matthew, Vacations for Warriors gave us such a blessing where we can truly be able to enjoy each other’s company,” Crystal Wilson said at Kahului Airport. “To be able to see both Tyler and Matthew go to the beach for the first time together and to be able to see both of their smiles — it’s been nothing short of incredible.”

Tyler Wilson (from left), his wife, Crystal, and 5-month-old son, Matthew, speak to Maui veterans and county officials Thursday after arriving on the island for a vacation paid for by the nonprofit Vacations for Warriors. -- The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

Tyler Wilson (from left), his wife, Crystal, and 5-month-old son, Matthew, speak to Maui veterans and county officials Thursday after arriving on the island for a vacation paid for by the nonprofit Vacations for Warriors. -- The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

The 32-year-old veteran served a little over two years in the 173rd Airborne Brigade. On May 3, 2005, he and about 60 others embarked on a rescue mission for a group of scouts that was ambushed.

“We were told it was against 20 guys. We ended up turning over the hornet’s nest and it was about 150 insurgents we were fighting against,” Wilson said.

Wilson was shot three times. The first paralyzed him; another bullet passed through his left lung and severed an artery. His squad leader moved him out of the line of fire while getting shot in the leg and a medic treated his wounds.

The couple named their son after the two rescuers, including the squad leader, who was killed in his next deployment. Wilson was medevaced to Germany and eventually to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for treatment and rehabilitation.

“I clinically died four times and took 28 units of blood and a couple different surgeries,” he said. “I tell everyone all the time that even if I had cat lives, I’d still be in the negatives.”

The couple met several years ago and got married in July 2016.

The trip to Hawaii has “been an amazing experience,” Wilson said. “It’s hard to put into words because everybody has been so helpful and the hospitality has just been unbelievable. We’re already planning a trip back down the road.”

A handful of Maui veterans and a representative of the Mayor’s Office greeted the family at the airport with lei.

County Managing Director Keith Regan said the county was happy to be of any assistance to wounded veterans.

“I think it’s a fantastic program to bring these wounded warriors here,” Regan said. “Anything that we can do from a community standpoint to show our appreciation for their sacrifices is an honor to be a part of.”

Mitch Skaggerberg, president of the Vietnam Veterans of Maui County, said he has welcomed veterans to the island for the past two years. He said it was important to him to show his fellow veterans how much their service means.

“During the Vietnam era we were left at the airport and we all know what happened,” said Skaggerberg. “Many times we were disrespected and spit on. So for the Vietnam veterans, when they decided to do the program we were attracted right away. We said of course we’re going to be here. We’re going to be here by the time they get off the plane and cover them.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.

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