Getting Back to Normal
LDWF Enforcement Agent Tyler Wheeler Defied The Odds And Exceeded Expectations Of Doctors By Returning To Work Only Eight Months After Being Shot
story by ADAM EINCK, LDWF Public Information
When you’re sick or injured you mostly just want to get back to normal, doing things that are routine and which you have passion about.
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Senior Agent Tyler Wheeler is no different. That’s why as he lay in a Shreveport hospital in early January of 2017, his first question to his bosses was when could he get back to work.
The truth, with the catastrophic injuries Wheeler had suffered, seemed to suggest a long time, if ever.
But less than a year after being shot in the line of duty with his life in serious jeopardy, Wheeler was back on the job he wanted to do since he was a kid.
Most LDWF Enforcement Agents always wanted to become a game warden since they could remember and are extremely dedicated to their profession. They endure a lot of cold nights seeking those illegally hunting, hot days patrolling the state’s abundant waterways and everything in between.
It takes a special kind of person that enjoys both the outdoors, law enforcement and all the difficulties of performing such a complex job. That is why it came as no surprise that Wheeler, couldn’t wait to get back to regular patrol duty after being shot.
But what surprised most people, including his colleagues and the doctors who oversaw his recovery, was that Wheeler, who was shot four times including once in the head, was able to make a full recovery and return to regular patrol duty in less than eight months.
His improbable quick recovery can be attributed to a number of factors, including his doctors, nurses, family, fellow agents and rehab specialists. But the biggest factor was likely Wheeler’s motivation to get back and put on the uniform as an LDWF agent again.
“I was in Shreveport about the time I had awakened after surgery and the Colonel (then LDWF Colonel Joey Broussard) and my lieutenant are in there,” said Wheeler, from Monroe. “My first question to them was when can I get back to work. I wasn’t even walking at that time and I couldn’t wait to get back to being an agent again.”
Wheeler’s entire world changed on Jan. 7, 2017, when he was shot four times while in the line of duty in Morehouse Parish.
Wheeler and his partner that night, Senior Agent John Hattaway, were on patrol and had just finished a case they worked together.
“Me and Hattaway were on duty together and we had just written a guy up for being on the Upper Ouachita Refuge after dark,” said Wheeler. “After that, Hattaway dropped me back off at my patrol truck and we went our separate ways to go home since it was the end of our shift.”
Wheeler and Hattaway live a few miles apart, graduated from the same LDWF cadet academy in 2013 and said their wives are best friends, which leads to them hanging out a good bit after work. They have also worked a lot of patrols together over the last four years since becoming agents.
While Wheeler and Hattaway were on their way home Wheeler was traveling behind a white Jeep that was weaving around 2 a.m. on U.S. Highway 165. Wheeler then radioed dispatch to announce he was making a traffic stop of the jeep. Hattaway heard the radio transmission when he was almost to his house.
“When I heard Tyler radio dispatch about a potential DWI stop, I started to circle back to his location,” said Hattaway. “I was a few minutes away and figured by the time I got there he would be in the middle of a field sobriety test.”
Wheeler pulled over the driver, Amethyst Baird, 31, of Monroe, questioned her, then, realizing she was likely impaired, asked her to exit the vehicle. That’s when she pulled a pistol and fired at Wheeler three times. The first shot hit Wheeler’s shoulder. The next two shots entered Wheeler’s left forearm before exiting with one of them entering his jaw and neck and the other one entering the left side of his temple.
While Wheeler was on the ground, Baird got out of the vehicle and stood over him firing one more shot into his upper back.
“I feel that last shot was supposed to be the kill shot since there were no other witnesses,” said Wheeler. “Thankfully I was wearing my bullet proof vest and that last shot wasn’t fatal.”
As Wheeler lay on the side of the highway, Baird took off and Hattaway was still en route to the location. When Hattaway arrived at the location a few minutes later he found Wheeler still conscious, laying on the side of the road.
Hattaway quickly radioed dispatch and secured the area. He then consoled Wheeler until the ambulance arrived.
“It was very cold that night as the temperature was in the teens,” said Hattaway. “Tyler was still conscious and was able to give a description of the person that shot him, which proved to be very valuable information. My job was to keep him warm and awake until more help could arrive.”
Once the ambulance arrived Wheeler was stabilized with his wounds wrapped and then airlifted to LSU-Shreveport Medical Hospital where he was induced into a medical coma for a few weeks. On the morning of Jan. 7 doctors removed the right portion of Wheeler’s skull to relieve swelling in his brain.
On Jan. 9, doctors removed the left side of Wheeler’s jaw and replaced it with a titanium substitute. That same day, doctors removed a bullet that was lodged in his neck that was dangerously close to his jugular artery. A feeding tube was also placed into Wheeler’s stomach on Jan. 24.
“I had the best doctors working on me to not only save my life, but also to get my body back into a working condition,” said Wheeler. “I also had a lot of support from my family, friends and co-workers while in the hospital. I don’t think I ever went a moment without at least one fellow agent being there.”
Wheeler was discharged from the hospital to the United Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson, Miss., on Jan. 26. Wheeler underwent 12 days of rigorous physical, speech and occupational therapy.
“This is the place where I had to learn how to walk again,” Wheeler said. “I had lost 31 pounds during my three weeks in the hospital.”
Wheeler also developed some severe nerve pain on the left side of his head while at the rehab center. The nerve pain made it difficult for Wheeler to sleep since any contact with his head on the mattress or pillow would cause great discomfort.
The doctor overseeing his rehab also showed Wheeler where the bullet travelled through his brain before it settled in the back of his brain where it still sits today. The plan at this point is to leave the bullet in Wheeler’s brain unless it is causing a problem since it is more dangerous to try and remove it at this time.
“The doctor said he was expecting the worst when he looked at my CAT scan,” Wheeler said. “A couple of days prior to me leaving the rehab center the doctor said that my rehab was an absolute miracle and remarkable. He said he never expected to see me excel like I did.”
Wheeler was discharged Feb. 11 from the Jackson rehab center to an outpatient center at Melanie Massey Rehabilitation Center in West Monroe.
“This is where I found out exactly how out of shape and weak my body had become,’’ Wheeler said. “It took six months of intense rehab before I was finally released. We set a goal from the beginning that I had to meet the LDWF training requirements for pushups, situps and 1 1/2 mile run in order to get out of rehab.”
In the middle of Wheeler’s outpatient rehab he made another trip back to the LSU-Shreveport hospital on March 27 to reassemble the portion of his skull that was taken off during his initial surgery Jan. 7. From Jan. 7 through March 27 Wheeler wore a helmet to protect his head since he was living with a partial skull in place.
Wheeler also had his feeding tube taken out and the bullet removed from his shoulder and trapezoid area during the March 27 visit to Shreveport that lasted three days.
Also on April 28 Wheeler passed a driving test to ensure he was fully capable of operating a vehicle.
Finally, on Aug. 2, Wheeler went through his final rehabilitation session, having met the goal of passing a physical fitness test per LDWF cadet training standards.
Only seven months after being shot and left for dead on the side of the road Wheeler was able to put on the uniform again and return to full time duty as an LDWF agent once again on Aug. 4.
“Every doctor I talked to during this entire process talks about not only how lucky I was to survive this shooting, but to also make a full recovery and return to duty working in law enforcement,” Wheeler said. “It was a lot of hard work, but we made it happen.”
Wheeler’s first week back in uniform was spent at LDWF’s in-service training to get him up to date on his annual training requirements. Then during Wheeler’s first few weeks back on patrol he rode with fellow agents to get him back on his feet and to make sure he was fully ready.
“We had a plan in place as we didn’t want to overload him his first couple of weeks and have a setback,” said Major Chad Hebert, who is in charge of Wheeler’s region. “All of the reports we got back during his initial few weeks were positive and he has been on regular patrol duty ever since. He is a real asset to the enforcement division and we are very happy he is doing good and back on patrol.”
Wheeler said, “Everything fell right back into place being on patrol and it felt normal.”
As for Baird she was arrested on Jan. 8 for attempted first degree murder of a police officer. On Oct. 23, she pled guilty to attempted first-degree murder of a police officer, obstruction of justice, possession of a stolen vehicle and illegal possession of a stolen firearm. Baird’s sentencing date has not been set as of this article’s publication.
“After everything that Tyler and his family had to endure, we are anxiously awaiting the sentencing in this case so that justice can be served and Tyler can some sort of closure,” said Col. Sammy Martin, head of the LDWF Enforcement Division. “Tyler is a walking miracle to be on regular patrol duties after suffering near fatal gunshot wounds. So glad we are sitting here today and have Tyler back on duty.”
As for Wheeler, he is content with fulfilling his mission of returning to duty.
“Though my life has been chaotic and hard over the past year, I can happily say that I am alive and my life is back to normal and I am back as an agent,” said Wheeler.
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