Barbara Kaiser had a premonition the night before she and her husband, Rick, were to get married for the third time in two weeks.
Rick, a retired Navy SEAL, planned to jump out of an airplane and land near their lakeside wedding site in Wisconsin — the first time his parents would see him parachute from a plane.
“If he jumps, he’d get severely injured,” she recalled, thinking back to that night in August 2016.
Rick, who helped manage the raid to capture terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, ended up smashing his right foot into a pier at high speed, an injury so damaging that it led to eventual amputation and a fitting for a prosthetic foot in Manchester.
“If someone tells you a story about a wedding-day fail, then you tell them to beat this story,” Rick said Friday.
“It sounded like two cars colliding,” said Barbara, who was in her wedding dress and heels when he crashed. “I ripped off my shoes and ran down to him.”
By chance, a trauma nurse was in a boat in the lake right there. A former first responder herself, Barbara wanted to make sure he wasn’t more seriously hurt.
Before the ambulance left with Rick, she had unfinished business.
Barbara had Rick sit up on the gurney in the ambulance and slipped a wedding ring on her husband’s finger. They exchanged their “I do’s” for the third time, following ceremonies in their home state of Florida and in Colorado for her family.
“Both paramedics were shaking their heads,” Rick said. “ ‘That doesn’t count. This guy’s on morphine.’ ”
Rick, 57, the executive director of the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, Fla., had completed 2,500 jumps, with only one other injury.
The wedding day accident “was a culmination of bad decision-making on my part,” he said. The wind shifted while he was aboard the plane, a development he didn’t detect, and he had designed a landing zone that was too small.
Rick planned to get his foot amputated in Florida in March 2018, but his wife urged him to wait.
“It was still attached. It was immobile. The bones were all shattered,” Rick said.
He wasn’t a stranger to New Hampshire.
A few years back, Manchester attorney Philip Taub wanted to form a not-for-profit group to benefit charities and met Rick by chance in Florida.
Rick brought some SEALS with him for Taub’s fundraising events the past two years at Newfound Lake. Last year, 4,000 people came to watch the SEALS do demonstrations. That’s when Taub and others wanted to help Rick and arranged for the Kaisers, who live in Vero Beach, Fla., to meet Manchester inventor Dean Kamen and later Matt Albuquerque, president of Next Step Bionics & Prosthetics in the Millyard.
“The main guy who stepped in to change my mind (about the Florida amputation) was Matt,” Rick said. “He showed me all the stuff going on, and he was the man who introduced me to Dr. (Matthew) Carty.”
Last month, Carty performed a special surgery, amputating Rick’s right foot and leg below the knee, at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital in Boston.
“With the Ewing amputation, muscles that are amputated are tied together in such a way that his muscles will work in a very similar way as when he had his foot,” Albuquerque said.
Rick will get a prosthesis this month and hopes later this year to get use of a robotic foot as part of a medical trial.
Once he gets the robotic foot, “he’ll think about lifting his toe up and the prosthetic foot will push up,” Albuquerque said. “It will act like his human foot.”
The foot will operate similarly to Kamen’s LUKE robotic arm, which, with help from a different special surgery, allows the user to control the limb by merely thinking about moving it.
Rick, formerly SEAL Team Six command master chief, will give a free talk at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester on Jan. 15. People need to register online at eventbrite.com.
“Mainly about leadership, overcoming adversity, things like that,” he said.
Barbara, who is marketing the couple’s life story for a possible television series, said SEALS “have this mind-over-matter thing few people have.”
Rick, a member of SEAL Team Six from 1985 to 2012, acted as sniper, explosives expert, lead training chief, sniper team leader and deputy operations officer.
He was among those involved in bringing home captured Army pilot Michael Durant of Berlin after his helicopter crashed in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993. Rick received the Silver Star Medal for Valor during the Battle of Mogadishu.
The event was retold in a movie, “Black Hawk Down,” which Rick said was about 80 percent accurate, “which is fairly high for a war-type movie.”
He and his SEAL team provided security “for the group that brought Durant home,” Rick said.
His SEAL team also captured bin Laden, an operation that Rick helped to manage from the United States. Bin Laden was killed in the raid.
“All our missions are capture and not kill,” he said. “What we want to do is collect intelligence, so we can run the next couple of missions.”
The plan was to capture the terrorist leader, but bin Laden had a gun when U.S. forces confronted him.
“They burst in the room, he had a weapon in his hand and he was a threat,” Rick said.
SEAL members learn life’s setbacks are not roadblocks but “speed bumps,” according to Rick, who is optimistic about picking up his pace soon once he gets his new foot.
“I’ve slowed down a little bit,” he said. “I have no doubt by this time next month, I’ll be cruising around.”
© 2019 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.)
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