ZEPHYRHILLS — Life, today, is much different for Tyler “TJ” Jeffries.
Walking doesn’t come easy. In fact, most days, it hurts. Sometimes the pain limits Jeffries, a 2007 Zephyrhills High School grad and former baseball player, to his wheelchair.
Eleven months ago, Jeffries stepped on an improvised explosive device during an explosive-clearing mission in Afghanistan.
The explosion took off a portion of his left leg above the knee as well as a part of his right leg below the knee. It’s also put him in a hospital operating room at least a dozen times.
As difficult as tasks are now, not much can compare to the moments just after the Oct. 6 blast.
“From the time I got blown up to the time I got in the helicopter, it took 50 minutes,” Jeffries said. “So I was waiting there, legless, for 50 minutes on the ground. I remember every single second of that.
“I was awake the whole time talking to my guys and they were taking care of me.”
Today, Jeffries, 24, is back in the town that knew him as a lefty pitcher with a mean curve ball. The former Bulldog was honored Thursday during a homecoming parade in downtown Zephyrhills. Tonight he’ll be celebrated during the Zephyrhills-Weeki Wachee football game.
This will be the first time Jeffries has returned to Florida since receiving medical treatment and rehabilitation for the past year at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
Jeffries received prosthetic legs in December and has had a service dog, a 130 pound European Red Doberman named Apollo, for about five months.
He was the lone injured member of his unit, the 2-1 Attack Company from Fort Lewis, Wash. He’s since received the Purple Heart, given to those injured or killed during combat.
He’s happy to get back to his roots — friends, family, and, of course, food.
“I can’t wait to go to Beef O’Brady’s,” Jeffries said. “That and Pancho’s (Villa Mexican Restaurant).”
His mother, Pam Britt, said the day she received the phone call was her hardest as a parent.
It was 5:29 a.m. when her phone rang. On the other end was someone from the U.S. Army, informing her of what took place.
“I relive that phone call all the time,” Britt said. “That was horrible. The worst part was the person on the other line was just reading me a report. There was no feeling whatsoever in anything he said. I know that was part of his job and he probably does that a lot.
“I just thought, my God, this is my baby that you’re talking about and you’re just reading it like it’s nothing.”
Britt accompanied her son from the airplane to his hospital room last Oct. 9 and has been by his side since. She returned to her North Carolina home just three weeks ago. She lived with her son for nearly a year in an apartment just across the street from the hospital and in a second apartment they moved into eight miles away from the base. It was all paid for by the nonprofit Operation Homefront.
She said her son was amazed by the number of relatives who have made the trip to see him in Maryland, from his father Ted Jeffries, older brother Drew Jeffries, and daughter Ella Jayne and many other aunts, uncles and cousins.
Seeing Tyler’s progress firsthand, though, has helped Britt distance herself from that early morning phone call 11 months ago.
“I wish I had half the strength that he does,” Britt said. “I wish I had half the will and determination he does. I could not have done what he does.
“I’m very, very proud of him. I’m proud of both my sons, but I look at him and it just amazes me. He doesn’t blink an eye.”