Holding a pen, gripping a cup and driving a car are actions many people don't think too much about. But for two firefighters recovering from severe burns, they're major steps forward.
"He is my hero to have lived through that," said Kara Mantey of her husband, Ricky Mantey Jr., who survived the Knights of Columbus Hall fire that killed Lts. Eric Wallace and Greg Pickard on Feb. 15, 2013.
On that night, while trying to rescue Wallace from the fire, Mantey, 31, and Mitch Moran, 22, were both seriously injured.
Despite the third-degree burns he sustained throughout his upper body, Mantey had one request as he maintained consciousness.
"He told Chief [Randy] McGregor, 'Do not call my wife, she'll be hysterical. Call her mother,'" Kara Mantey said, recalling the night she received the news while on a work trip to Dallas.
As Mantey and Moran were rushed to Galveston's Blocker Burn Unit for treatment, Kara raced back to the couple's home in Caldwell and was ticketed for speeding on the way there.
Both men remained in Galveston until May, when they returned to welcoming crowds in Bryan. But the road to recovery is a long one. In December, Mantey had reconstructive surgery on his hands and expects to undergo three to four more procedures on each hand in the years to come.
"We experienced a life-changing event this past year," Mantey said. "There's different ways you can get around that -- keep walking forward and try to keep getting better. That's what we do every day is try to get better, and I want everybody to know that I still have a lot more surgeries to come on both hands, but I'm still going to do my best at everything I do."
That determination is what makes his wife so sure that he'll be back at the fire station, be that as a firefighter, medic or in the office.
"It's too far out to know for sure because there are a lot of variables in the equation," she said. "What I do know is that he's going to fight like hell to be able to go back."
Mantey has come a long way over the past year. Unable to dress himself, much less drive at first, Mantey can now do both.
More importantly, he can get on the floor and play with his 3-year-old daughter, Kanzie, who he called "the joy of my life."
Moran, who was unavailable for an interview, has since returned to the fire station on light duty and resumed his paramedic training. McGregor said he expects to have him back full-time in the near future.
They will be in attendance Saturday to celebrate Wallace and Pickard at a one-year anniversary memorial outside the Clara B. Mounce Public Library. The event is scheduled for 4 p.m.
The Manteys credit family, friends and community members, who helped with household chores, donations and caring messages, as a big part of Mantey's recovery. Kara's co-workers even donated their sick days and vacation time so she wouldn't have to go without a paycheck while caring for her husband. The family hasn't had to worry about medical bills, either, as the city of Bryan and the fire department have incurred all expenses not covered by insurance.
The couple continues to cope with their new normal, always thinking about and praying for Wallace, Pickard and their families.
"I looked up to them," Mantey said of the two department veterans. "I wanted to be the best and they were the best."
Despite the events of the past year and the long road ahead, Kara remains positive.
"Whatever hard times we have to go through, I take them because he's still here," she said.
Copyright 2014 - The Eagle, Bryan, Texas