Tracy Keil — A Caregiver’s Story
Tracy and Matt Keil were married just before Matt was deployed to Iraq for his second tour of duty. A seven-year veteran of the U.S. Army, Matt was serving as an infantry squad leader. Just 43 days after their wedding, a sniper’s bullet hit Matt in the neck. It severed his spine and left him a quadriplegic. In an instant Matt and Tracy’s life together was forever changed. His young bride, best friend and loving wife would soon also become Matt’s advocate and full time caregiver.
Faced with the idea of her husband being permanently confined to a nursing home or living at home with her, according to Tracy, the decision to become Matt’s caregiver was a “no brainer.” Even though it meant giving up work — and life as she knew it — Tracy didn’t hesitate. Having her husband at home meant more than taking on challenges of caring for a loved one with a spinal cord injury (SCI).
“My life has changed so much” says Tracy. “It’s difficult to maintain employment when it’s just me to care for Matt.” Of course, “there are days I miss having a paycheck and my own money and my own independence. It’s difficult to go out with friends … to make plans. But I wouldn’t trade that to not have Matt in my life! So sometimes I think it’s about perspective. Honestly for us it’s positive change. We feel like we are so blessed to have this chance to help make a difference in other lives.”
Like many full time caregivers, for Tracy, securing the help she needs to provide the home care Matt requires is an ongoing battle. “Nationwide there is a void in home health care for veterans. My biggest challenge is always in-home care … I need help in the home to continue to care for Matt. For me, anything Matt needs is worth fighting for!”
Tracy offers these insights for other caregivers. “YOU CAN DO THIS!” she says. “It’s hard sometimes, but keep on going. The best things in life can still be yours. You have to open your mind to doing things differently, but they can still be done.” And Tracy is quick to add, “Don’t let anyone ever tell you that your [or your loved one] can’t do something. If you want it, go after it!”
Tracy and Matt are hoping for another big change soon. They are trying to start a family. “We make a great team together and we make sure to work on our relationship and do things together like husband and wife rather than everything being about caregiving.”