We have an update on a local Marine who lost both legs in Afghanistan. Lance Corporal Jeremiah Thein is out of Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. and back in California. He's continuing his rehabilitation in San Diego.
Whatever strength Thein once had in his legs, he's gained in his will to be a great father to his brand new son, Jeremiah Thein Jr., and to continue getting better.
"If somebody tells me I can't do something," says Thein. "It makes me mad. It literally makes me angry. I'll be mad and I'll be like oh, no you didn't!"
We first met Jeremiah Thein back in May at Walter Reed Medical Center. It had been just over a month since he had taken the brunt of an IED explosion in Afghanistan. He pushed a Marine engineer out of the way and yelled for the rest of his squad to run, sacrificing himself for their safety.
Thein told us then, "When I lost my legs it was the most terrifying thing I've ever seen in my life."
In May, Jeremiah's left arm was still immobile, his face was thin, and he stayed in his hospital bed most of the time.
Today, Jeremiah's family can barely keep up. He gets around on a motorized wheelchair, his face is fuller, and he's happy to be closer to home in California. He and his wife, Ashley, stepson E.J., and Jeremiah Jr. all live in a four-bedroom military condo in San Diego.
It's a change, as is Jeremiah's appearance to E.J. The four-year-old is a fan of "Transformers the Movie," which made explaining a little easier.
"He thinks Megatron took my legs," explains Thein of what E.J. believes. "And, he wants me to go talk to Bumblebee for Bumblebee to give me his legs so I can have them. So it was really easy to explain to him. Later on down the road, yes, I will explain it to him. But, right now, he's okay. Okay, the Decepticons got you."
"Like when he (Jeremiah) leaves to go to therapy, he (E.J.) says you know Jeremiah is going to go get his legs fixed," said Ashley. "And, then he comes back and he says you didn't get Bumblebee's legs today. And, we're like, not today."
Rigorous therapy sessions at nearby Balboa Naval Hospital have given Thein more strength.
"Like remember when I couldn't lift my arm up," asked Thein lifting his arm. "I can lift my arm all of the way up now. And, I'm like it wasn't difficult. It took a little bit of time, but it wasn't difficult. Nothing is difficult to me. There hasn't been a task yet I haven't completed, except for changing him (Jeremiah Jr.) with one hand. It was a mess and I just quit."
Always the jokester, Jeremiah did reveal how serious his arm injury is. He's gaining mobility in his hand and swelling is going down in his reconstructed forearm. Doctors took a muscle from his back and skin grafts from what's left of his legs to cover his wounds.
"I'm just glad that he's alive and that he's with us. It's a blessing," said Ashley Thein.
Friends have been a blessing too. Iraq War veteran and fellow double amputee, Wesley Barrientos came, bearing Krispy Kremes during our visit. The two talked about therapy, prosthetics, and the hurdles Jeremiah will have to clear moving forward.
"It reminds me the way I went through it," said Barrientos, "And, the things that I did. And, I want to give him a headsup the way the veterans did with me, like the people before did with me. So, I do the same with him."
That support and determination makes Jeremiah stronger, now able to lift himself under his own power from chair to chair.
"I don't really see a change," said Thein, "Yeah, I lost my legs, woohoo. I don't really see a change. I consider myself guarded by an angel. Over what everyone has told me, I should have died."
It's something he thinks about every day. How life, like his son, is so fragile. He knows he doesn't need two legs to kiss his son, only two lips. And, although his body might not be whole, he feels his life is beyond complete.
"I want to thank everyone from Bakersfield for having their moral support for me," said Thein. "They've also been a blessing. Even just receiving an e-mail from someone or getting something in the mail, it warms my heart. Like, there are people out there that care. There are people that care about the military and our service of sacrifice. So, that makes me happy."
Jeremiah Thein got more good news. He'll be fitted for prosthetics next week and should have them a week after that. His plan is to come home to Bakersfield in October on two feet.