After losing his legs in Afghanistan, life is different for Farmington grad Kyle Malin
Fate does funny things to people. It brings them together, it gives challenges, it provides successes. Fate can tear some apart, but it can make others so much stronger than they ever knew possible, too.
Just ask Kyle and Alicia Malin. They know all too well how big an impact a split second can have. They learned the hard way almost a year ago, when Army Staff Sgt. Kyle Malin, a Farmington High School graduate, stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.
Malin had already been deployed to Iraq three times before last July's IED explosion. Alicia grew up in a family of military men and. Deployment was part of life, something both of them understood as a given in their relationship.
Now, looking at the past year, that relationship has changed. But it's been a change for the better. Kyle lost his legs in the explosion, but the couple has gained a lot of perspective.
Kyle Malin was deployed with the Army's 101st Airborne team out of Fort Campbell, Ky. A soldier from another squad had stepped on an IED and was injured. Kyle was in charge of a group referred to as the quick reaction force, a team trained to care for injured soldiers.
The QRF was on the scene, trying to clear the way for a helicopter to land so they could get medical attention for the injured soldier. Insurgents had stayed close when they planted the IEDs, and they started firing at the soldiers and the helicopter. In all of the mayhem, the team's point man thought he saw something in the sand ...
"and I hit the IED. I flipped twice and hit my head," Kyle said. "My ears were ringing, it was like everything was happening in slow motion."
He closed his eyes. He knew something was wrong, because he felt a burning sensation in his legs. A doctor on his team immediately started to apply tourniquets to the wounds. What little he remembers from then on, he calls "a bad dream sequence."
He was medicated and airlifted. He passed through Germany on his way to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Kyle was unconscious through the entire transport.
It was days after the explosion when, at his bedside, his wife of then-almost six years quietly said one little word of endearment in his ear.
"His eyes opened really wide," Alicia said. And then, they closed again, but only for a moment, because they opened again with a deep intensity. "It was almost like he was in disbelief I was really there."
The burning sensations Kyle felt in his legs came with good reason -- he lost both legs and part of a buttock in the explosion. He's also got partial hearing loss in one ear.
Over time, Alicia lost track of how many surgeries her husband has had. At first, there were multiple surgeries nearly every day. Eventually the surgeries slowed and the physical therapy sessions increased.
Kyle's parents, Deb and Jon Malin of Lakeville, joined their daughter-in-law and her parents in Washington, D.C. The couple's two sons, however, did not get to see their father right away.
Their older son, Kalib, understood something bad had happened to his father.
"At first, I told him, 'Daddy did a good job. He got hurt. Daddy doesn't have any legs now,'" she said.
That was hard for him to understand, so she explained that one day, Daddy would have new legs again, only they would be metal, like the Transformers have.
At first, doctors told the family it would be two years before Kyle would be released from the hospital. They estimated it would be at least nine months before he could see his boys. But he worked hard on his recovery. After just three months, he was able to see his sons again. Kalib and his brother, Cy, both wanted to see their father's wounds, but then they moved on like nothing was any different.
A new life
These days, Kyle moves around easily in his wheelchair. He'd developed a lot of upper body strength in his early days of physical therapy. He's also developing lower body movement again, as he's working into prosthetic legs and feet.
For now, the family lives in a partially-modified home on base at Fort Sam Houston near San Antonio, Texas. Alicia is working on her college degree. Once Kyle is through his surgeries and physical therapy, he'll leave the Army. The couple plans to build a home on some acreage somewhere in Texas, where Alicia grew up. She'll finish her degree and find a job. He'd like to become a gunsmith, maybe even open a shooting range. But for sure, Kyle wants to be there for his sons.
"She'll be my Sugar Mama, I'll be the Soccer Dad," Kyle said. "I missed an important three years of their lives because I was always gone."
Kyle and his family returned to Minnesota last week to spend some time with his parents and extended family from the area. He's gotten a whole lot of attention, too -- the city of Lakeville declared Monday Kyle Malin Day; he got to raise the US Flag at Monday night's Minnesota Twins game. On Saturday, the Malin family hosted an open house so he could meet and thank people who supported them following his injury last year.
On Tuesday, sitting on the deck at his parent's house, Kyle and Alicia agreed they couldn't have made it this far if they didn't have each other.
"We're still overcoming a lot of obstacles," Alicia said. "We're a good team. After this, there's nothing we can't take care of together.
"In our eyes, he was a hero from the first deployment."