A former soldier who lost all four limbs after an explosion while serving in the Middle East is now celebrating the birth of his newborn son, and honoring the medics who saved his life in the process.
Retired Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills was severely injured on April 10, 2012, during his third tour of duty in Afghanistan. After unintentionally placing his backpack on an IED, Mills lost his right arm and leg, and just days later, his other two remaining limbs were amputated. The incident left him as one of only five quadruple amputees from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars to survive their injuries.
After experiencing a grueling 19-month recovery process to acclimate himself to life as a quadriplegic, Mills has more than just endured, he’s excelled. He started the Travis Mills Foundation in 2013 to benefit wounded veterans; was the focus of the documentary Travis: A Soldier’s Story; and wrote a best-selling memoir, Tough as They Come.
“I learned very early that instead of dwelling on the past and questioning why this happened, just reminisce about the past, because I can’t close my eyes and click my heels and go back in time,” Mills, 30, of Augusta, Maine, tells PEOPLE. “I just reminisce about what I had, 25 great years, and I keep pushing forward.”
In the five years since the accident, Mills—along with his wife Kelsey and daughter, Chloe—have pushed forward together, and today, the family has another member coming along for the ride. On August 17, the family welcomed their new little bundle of joy, Dax, who they named in honor of the two men that saved Mills’ life: Combat Medics Daniel Bateson and Alexander Voyce, who worked together to place tourniquets on all four of Mills’ limbs and pumped fluids into his body while assuring him he was going to survive.
When Mills and his wife, Kelsey, started to think of names for their boy after they found out they were expecting, they took to social media for suggestions. While “Maverick” was the top pick for friends and family, one friend suggested that the couple name their son “Daniel Alexander,” to pay homage to the medics. There was just one problem: Mills’ family has passed down the name “Fieldyen” for four generations, and he planned to use it for his son’s middle name. Fortunately, Kelsey had a solution.
“She said, ‘What about Dax? What about taking the D and the A and the X from both the names and putting them together?’ ” Mills recalls. “I loved it, so I named him after those two gentlemen that literally saved my life on the battlefield.”
Mills says Bateson and Voyce were thrilled when he called to say he was naming their son after them.
“They were both very excited. Their wives sent messages about how touched and honored they were,” Mills says. “Military guys aren’t like that. So they were just like, ‘That’s so amazing, really appreciate that, awesome.’ And their wives were more excited.”
The couple’s daughter, Chloe, was only 6 months old when Mills got hit in 2012. With Dax, Mills is able to experience all of the intricacies of having a newborn more thoroughly and deeply, even if he is not the one getting stinky in the process.
“It’s a whole new thing. I can’t change diapers, so my wife’s taken the brunt of that!” he says. “But it’s great that she, one, accepted that we should have another child, and two, that she takes that role on. She is a true hero.”
In June 2017, under his nonprofit, Mills opened a 16-room, ADA-compliant home in the Belgrade Lakes region of Maine to host veterans and their families. He calls it the Veterans Retreat, an all-inclusive place where vets can catch some R&R, and from December 13 to 17, the retreat is hosting combat-injured veterans who have been affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
“This is all about making sure as many families as possible have a chance to be in a free zone where they can feel comfortable trying new activities,” Mills says. “They can learn how to do adapt so they don’t live life on the sidelines. They don’t have to watch their family participate in things, but they can actually get out there and kayak, go shoot archery and go ride horses.”
In early November, Mills and the family traveled to the retreat for an intimate family photo shoot with photographer Lola Melani, who is known for elegant maternity and newborn fine art portraits and is the founder of the Lola Melani Fund, a charity that supports mothers and caregivers who have experienced life-altering challenges.
While Mills says he was excited about the shoot with the celebrity photographer, he was well aware who was going to steal the show.
“I just stay out of the way. My daughter loves her little brother, and she also loves to be the center of attention. So she was right in there getting her pictures and having a good time with it!” he says, before adding, “I’m very fortunate in life to still be here. I’m very lucky.”
That “luck,” he says, has a name.
“Kelsey Mills is, you know, a champion,” Mills says. “She’s a champion, and I wouldn’t be able to live life the way I do without her by my side. I’m so grateful to have her.”