WARRENSBURG — When Marine sniper Sgt. Eddie Ryan was shot twice in the head by friendly fire while serving in Iraq, doctors told his parents he would not survive. His family flew to Germany, where he was being treated, essentially to say goodbye.
But Ryan wasn’t ready to quit. He recovered, and over the past 11 years he has been moving down the long road to recovery that follows a traumatic brain injury.
On Wednesday, Ryan demonstrated the progress he has made by standing, with assistance from his therapists. It was the first time his mother had seen him standing in person since before he was wounded.
Following the injury, Ryan had to relearn how to speak and use most of his muscles.
A key part of his recovery has been physical therapy. However, Veterans Affairs will only pay for 12 sessions before it requires a re-evaluation and report of progress. This can take months, and a patient like Ryan can lose all the gains that have been made.
Ryan’s father, Chris Ryan, said getting the physical therapy his son needs has been a major obstacle for Eddie and his family. That’s where Amanda Carpenter came in.
Carpenter, a physical therapist in Warrensburg, first learned of Eddie Ryan’s situation in an article published in The Post-Star. She decided that if the VA would not assist, she would. She has been giving Ryan physical therapy since February.
“The story went out and I get a call from Amanda ... she said if the government won’t help him, we will,” Chris Ryan said.
Carpenter said she saw it as her duty to assist the Marine. She said too often veterans are forgotten once they return home, and she wanted to do something about that.
“I really felt in my heart that I was called to help Eddie,” Carpenter said.
At a presentation made Wednesday on Ryan’s progress, attended by his friends and family, including Warren County Sheriff Bud York and a representative from Congresswoman Elise Stefanik’s office, Ryan demonstrated how far he has come.
With assistance from Carpenter and graduate student Del Constantino, who has been working with him, Ryan got up from his wheelchair and stood.
Chris Ryan said he hopes this will be a turning point for Eddie and he will finally be able to get all the care he needs. He said he especially hopes his son can begin occupational therapy, which Carpenter has said would be beneficial for him.
“We have had our struggles with the VA, but we have also met some great people,” he said.
Chris Ryan said York has written letters to the VA on the family’s behalf, and Stefanik has made several congressional inquiries, which have yielded results. He said the community has always embraced Eddie, and for that he is grateful.
Constantino said Ryan has inspired him to work more with veterans as he moves forward in his career.
“This is why I got into this,” he said.
Constantino has also worked to get Ryan a membership at a local gym. His mother has said she thinks being able to go to a regular gym again will be great for him.
“He is a Marine,” she said. “He needs to be working out.”
Carpenter and Constantino said Ryan’s progress is all his own doing and they were merely the ones who helped him push himself.
Ryan has always been dedicated to making progress. Carpenter said that when Ryan was told sugar was hindering his recovery, he immediately cut all sugar from his diet.
“He is an inspiration to me,” Carpenter said. “He always comes ready to work.”
Carpenter said traumatic brain injuries are difficult to treat because every case is so different. However, she said she sees no reason why Ryan cannot continue to improve.
During the presentation, as Constantino spoke about Ryan’s injuries, Ryan stopped him for a moment.
“I would do it all again,” Ryan said.