OUACHITA PARISH, La. (AP) - Re-establishing day-to-day life is an incremental process for Tyler Wheeler.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries agent returned to his Ouachita Parish home in mid-February but still faces multiple surgeries and procedural steps before he returns to his career and the recreational activities he enjoys.
One of those surgeries will reattach a portion of his skull and the other will repair damage to his jaw through a bone graft and the use of metal support.
“Until I get my skull back on, someone has to be with me 24/7,” Wheeler said. “I’m also not able to do everything I want to do because there are limitations. No running, no physical activities because of the possibility of falling and tripping… riding four-wheelers, driving vehicles. After this next surgery, a lot of the things will be semi-lifted. I’ve been looking forward to getting all of this stuff taken care of so whenever I get ready to do something, I can get up, get in the truck and get out and go do it without having to bother someone else. I can go do it on my own.”
In the interim, Wheeler has been able to take in movies, go shopping, visit restaurants and make appearances at area fundraisers with his wife of one year, Haley, by his side - a space she has occupied full-time since the Jan. 7 shooting.
A suspicion of DWI led to the traffic stop where Wheeler encountered Amethyst Baird and Jeremy Gullette. Baird is accused of shooting Wheeler five times in the Perryville area on U.S. 165 in Morehouse Parish. She was charged with attempted first-degree murder of a police officer. Gullette faces accessory charges.
Back-up arrived at the scene within three minutes of the shooting, and Wheeler was transported to University Health Shreveport. In late January, Wheeler journeyed to a Jackson rehabilitation facility where he stayed until his return to Ouachita.
In a normal year, Wheeler would be umpiring baseball games now. Although that isn’t a possibility this year, he hopes to be back on the field to act as a high school football referee in the fall. Both are side jobs he enjoys because they keep him active in the sports he enjoyed growing up.
Wheeler attended Swartz Elementary and Ouachita High School, where he played baseball, golf and soccer, and he graduated from the University of Louisiana Monroe with a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice after completing his six-month academy for the LDWF. Getting a job with the department at the age of 21 was not something Wheeler, who was planning for a career with the Louisiana State Police, anticipated.
When the department opened a spot in their academy, he decided to take the civil service test and send in an application. When he was called to Baton Rouge for an interview, he went thinking it would be practice, but he was called back for a second - a physical fitness interview. Wheeler met the goals, and a position was open in Ouachita Parish. He got the job and is in his third year now.
“It wasn’t what I planned on doing, but it worked out to be something I really enjoyed,” Wheeler said. “It fell right in line… It fits with my personality well.”
The best part of his job, a job he plans to return to after his surgeries and completing a necessary psychological exam and recertifying for his weapons, is coming in contact with people who are enjoying the outdoors and recreational activities.
“I’m out with people who are doing something fun that they enjoy,” he said. “Most of the time it’s a good outcome when I get through talking to them, though, obviously, sometimes it isn’t. You’re not pulling them over for a violation they did on the roadway and writing them a ticket. You are dealing with somebody who is having a good time hunting and fishing with their kids - showing them how to hunt and fish safely - and you are dealing with people who are already having fun and, normally, already in a good mood.”
Wheeler said he hopes the love and support he received and continues to receive in his recovery will be redirected to help brighten the days of others and boost their mood.
During the time he spent in the hospital and rehab, Wheeler’s dad, Darren Wheeler, shared regular Facebook updates on Tyler’s progress. Each was seen and shared by thousands of people, many of whom offered support in any way they could.
Tyler said it meant more to him than he can express, and to his family.
“It was tough on both of my parents,” he said. “The whole incident did a lot more than just impacting me. My whole family has been worried to death.”
People who wanted to know how they could help offered their phone numbers and said to call if the Wheelers needed anything. Fundraisers have raised thousands of dollars to help the Wheelers with medical and day-to-day expenses until both Tyler and Haley are able to return to work full-time.
“All the people… It’s been amazing,” Wheeler said. “All these people who don’t have a clue who I am who came and donated their time and money… to see how many people cared and wanted to be there just to show support for me was just amazing. Obviously, I don’t know - I wouldn’t know - half the people who came in and donated their time. To know that people care that much about someone they didn’t know shows how good the people in Ouachita Parish are in general. And that is the amazing thing to me that I wish to be carried out of it.”
Wheeler hopes the feeling of generosity can carry over to the general population with little things, like a smile or a head nod, an act capable of turning a bad day around for the recipient.
“I know first-hand that somebody shaking my hand or telling me we’ve been praying for you makes me feel good,” Wheeler said. “…If that could go on to the people in the parish as a whole, I think it would be a completely different world… Smile. Shake a hand. It doesn’t matter. Everybody has got problems. Everybody has got their issues. You may not be able to make it better, but you may be able to make them feel better with the situation they’ve got, just by simple things.”
Information from: The News-Star, https://www.thenewsstar.com
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