Social media support lifts injured veteran who helped wounded at Fort Hood

Ryan Walton hugs his son Ayden, age 3, while his wife Krystle looks on at their home in York Township. Walton, a former soldier, now lives in Red Lion, and is nearly bedridden, having suffered injuries in Iraq. Later, during the Ft. Hood shooting, he attended to the wounded and dead. With the four-year anniversary of the massacre approaching and the shooter now sentenced, Walton reflects on how his life has changed. (Paul Kuehnel - Daily Record/Sunday News)

Ryan Walton hugs his son Ayden, age 3, while his wife Krystle looks on at their home in York Township. Walton, a former soldier, now lives in Red Lion, and is nearly bedridden, having suffered injuries in Iraq. Later, during the Ft. Hood shooting, he attended to the wounded and dead. With the four-year anniversary of the massacre approaching and the shooter now sentenced, Walton reflects on how his life has changed. (Paul Kuehnel – Daily Record/Sunday News)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: This story originally appeared in the Nov. 3 York Daily Record/Sunday News.

Ryan Walton lies on the bed most of the day — it’s a single, hospital-issue, and barely big enough for his 6 foot, 5 inch frame. It’s sandwiched between the couch and the stairs in his Red Lion townhouse.

Three years ago, he stood on the dais at Fort Hood, Texas, receiving the Meritorious Service Medal for running in when others ran out during the 2009 massacre, in which 13 people died and more than 30 were injured.

“It was very sad,” he said. “But we all knew what we did and it was an honor to be there and receive it.”

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That day, he just happened to be driving through the fort when he came upon bloody victims who had fled as Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire.

Walton, now 27, carried bodies out of the building, slinging them over his broad shoulders. He started IVs in victims and advocated for the more seriously injured victims who were passed over by paramedics.

But before that day, he had already suffered injuries in Iraq and had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I think, all in all, Nov. 5 is what ruined me,” he said.

Walton, a 2004 Dover High School graduate, was honorably discharged, and in the past year, has been hospitalized numerous times for chronic back pain.

He now spends his days and nights in his bed, swallowing pills, sipping water and iced coffee, watching the same shows on TV.

His wife, Krystle, 26, has to stay by his side, taking care of all the cooking, cleaning, errands and laundry.

Walton’s 3-year-old son, Ayden, wants to run and jump and play, not cuddle with dad on his bed.

“It feels like my body’s deteriorating,” he said. “I wouldn’t take back anything I ever did, but I want to be with my family. I want to be a natural human being.”

Desert

Ryan Walton gave a patch like the one shown to the family of a victim of the Ft. Hood shooting. Thirteen people died and more than 30 were injured in the shooting. Walton was among those who helped the injured to treatment. "They each mean something to me," he said. (Paul Kuehnel - Daily Record/Sunday News)

Ryan Walton gave a patch like the one shown to the family of a victim of the Ft. Hood shooting. Thirteen people died and more than 30 were injured in the shooting. Walton was among those who helped the injured to treatment. “They each mean something to me,” he said. (Paul Kuehnel – Daily Record/Sunday News)

When Walton touched down in Mosul in late 2007, the stench of rotting flesh and excrement simmering in the hot sun crawled up his nostrils. It would take nearly two weeks to get used to it, he said.

He was assigned to a recovery team — after a skirmish, would they roll in and care for the wounded, and haul back to their base the blasted-out metal carcasses of tanks, Humvees and trucks that had been destroyed.

“I was in places that the normal human being would go, ‘No way,’” he said.

He first hurt himself in one of those places.

“There was a blast hole and it was filled with — they call it moon dust,” he said.

The dust, blown by the wind, obscured the hole and made it seem like he was stepping on solid ground. Wearing 70 pounds of equipment, Walton’s right leg sank into the hole, while his left leg remained on solid ground.

Fellow soldiers thought he was shot.

When Walton returned to Fort Hood, doctors believed his knee was his main injury.

“It wasn’t; it was always my back,” he said.

They did get one thing right — he had PTSD.

“It was cut and dried — the nightmares, the anxiety, the anger — a clear-cut image of PTSD,” he said.

He was ordered to attend a two-week PTSD camp, where he was taught breathing techniques, meditation and yoga.

“I went through that, I kind of felt different, a better person — changed,” he said. “And then Nov. 5 hit about a month or so after.”

Massacre

On the morning of the massacre, Krystle, then seven months pregnant, was looking forward to Walton taking her out for lunch before she worked an evening shift as a sales consultant for a cellphone company.

But about 1 p.m., Walton called and told her there had been a shooting at the fort and to stay home.

“I just hoped he was OK,” she said. “I knew the kind of person he was, so I knew he was going towards it. He always goes to help people.”

About 15 minutes later, there came a series of broadcasts over the fort’s public-address system, meant to help soldiers and their families: Stay inside. Lock your doors. Prepare for an air attack. Turn off your air conditioning.

She also looked out her window and saw personnel carriers rolling through the streets, loaded with armed soldiers.

“I actually saw him on CNN carrying someone out, so I knew he was OK,” she said.

Hours later, Walton returned home. He took his bloodstained uniform off, said he was going to take a shower.

“When he got out, he just sat there, in the dark, smoking,” she said. “I told him I loved him and that when he wanted to talk, I was there.”

Discharge

Just more than a year after the massacre, Walton was honorably discharged from the Army.

“One commander said to me, ‘You’ve done more in seven years than most guys do in 20,’” he said.

But he wondered, how am I going to support my family? How can I survive in the outside world, living and feeling the way I do?

He and Krystle decided to move to Florida, where Walton’s aunt, Donna Jones, lived.

The pain in his back ramped up. He had hallucinations, night terrors.

Krystle Walton gives her husband Ryan a pill at their home in York Township. Ryan Walton doesn't get out of bed much because of concerns he will fall while walking, but he said he is working to overcome the constant pain he's in. (Paul Kuehnel - Daily Record/Sunday News)

Krystle Walton gives her husband Ryan a pill at their home in York Township. Ryan Walton doesn’t get out of bed much because of concerns he will fall while walking, but he said he is working to overcome the constant pain he’s in. (Paul Kuehnel – Daily Record/Sunday News)

The military changed his status to 100 percent disabled after further examination of his PTSD, and doctors worked to find the right medications to help him.

“I was their Guinea pig — I didn’t like that,” he said. “‘Try this pill, try that pill, let’s mix it with this.’ This isn’t chemistry class … The one pill they put me on, I lost my vision.”

In October 2012, doctors removed a portion of his vertebral bone called the lamina. The surgery was supposed to help relieve pain in his legs and back, but doctors told him he would more than likely need further surgeries.

He holed himself up at home. In his mind, it was better than going to a store, and having all sorts of people around you, and not being able to see the exit.

“Nothing makes you better with this disease,” he said of PTSD.

Home

Since moving to York County about a year ago, Walton figures he’s been hospitalized 8 to 10 times for back pain.

“More than that,” Krystle said.

“I am able to walk, yes, but the biggest issue is injury while walking,” he said.

“His legs can give out on him at any time,” Krystle said.

After a several-day stay in late October at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Towson, Md., Walton resolved to fight the urge to get himself to a hospital as soon as pain strikes.

“I’m going to work to beat this,” he said.

This Nov. 5, it will have been four years since the massacre, and some things are far from settled with Walton.

First on Walton’s mind is the government’s stance on the massacre.

“It should be (viewed as) an act of terrorism; it was not workplace violence,” he said, referring to the post-massacre revelation that Hasan had espoused a pro-al Qaeda philosophy.

“He should’ve been thrown out of the Army before he had a chance to do this,” Walton said.

In August, a jury found Hasan guilty and sentenced him to death.

Tattoo

Ryan Walton is pictured with his Meritorious Service Medal in October at his home in York Township. He had an image of the medal tattooed on his arm so he would always carry it with him. He says he doesn't want to forget the painful moments he witnessed because they are part of who he is now. (Paul Kuehnel - Daily Record/Sunday News)

Ryan Walton is pictured with his Meritorious Service Medal in October at his home in York Township. He had an image of the medal tattooed on his arm because he doesn’t want to forget the painful moments he witnessed. (Paul Kuehnel – Daily Record/Sunday News)

Walton doesn’t want to ever forget what happened Nov. 5, 2009.

To make sure, he has a tattoo on the inside of his right forearm of the Meritorious Service Medal he received. Above it is the date and the inscription, “Never Forgotten.”

“Not a day goes by when I don’t think of the soldiers,” he said. “They each mean something to me.”

He continues to be haunted by hallucinations of that day — the bullets, the blood.

“I would never want those visions to be taken away from me,” he said. “They’re a part of me. Even though they hurt me, it’s a part of me.”

 

Walton: Public response has helped family

Ryan Walton said that since the latest story on him was published in the York Daily Record — and posted on Facebook and other social media — he has gained items that have made his life easier, but more importantly, he has gained new friends.

“We finally got the help we needed but were afraid to ask for,” he said on Nov. 21.
 He and his family received well-wishes and support on Facebook after the story was posted there, and both he and his wife Krystle commented on the post, thanking people for their kind words.
 But there have been more than words of support. Walton, 27, said one man, who wished to remain anonymous, got him a gently-used hospital bed that fits his 6-feet, 5-inch frame.
“Since I got this other bed — it’s great, it’s much bigger — my feet don’t hang off the end,” as they did with his previous hospital bed, he said.
In addition, a group of local veterans paid him a visit, and then presented him with a lift chair. It’s a motorized easy chair that gradually lowers him into it, and also lifts him up to a standing position.
“There’s no sitting down (fast) and flopping, which could hurt my back,” Walton said.
The group also paid his dues at the Red Lion American Legion, and invited him and his family for dinner any time they wish.
A third donor, an elderly couple, paid for a brand-new Sleep Number queen-size bed, so that when Walton is ready, he can sleep with wife Krystle.
The same couple has also helped watch the Waltons’ young son Ayden, 3, while he and his wife went to a medical appointment.
“It’s so amazing to see how God is working,” he said. “When one door closes, another door opens.”

 

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