Former Army Ranger fights Hurricane Harvey, cancer
By ADAM WILMOTH | The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City | Published: September 12, 2017
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (Tribune News Service) — Former Army Ranger and soon-to-be Oklahoma City oil law attorney Matt Meloni wouldn't let a burst appendix, cancer treatment and wading through waist-high floodwaters and raw sewage keep him from reaching a Houston hospital.
Meloni was in Houston preparing for prostate cancer surgery when Hurricane Harvey struck the city, deluging the area with record flooding. The surgery was scheduled for Aug. 28, which was also his sixth wedding anniversary and his third daughter's due date.
Knowing that Hurricane Harvey was on its way, Meloni bought plenty of food and iodine.
"You don't need to stock up on gallons of water when you have iodine and know how to use it," he said.
He had a stomach ache when he went to bed, but he blamed it on a heavy meal. By morning, however, he was in severe pain and felt confused, a common sign of poison from a burst appendix in the bloodstream.
While Meloni claims some confusion, he still was thinking clearly enough to remember his Ranger training and do what needed to be done.
"I went to the hotel lobby and said I needed medical transportation to the hospital," Meloni said. "They said, 'Have you seen outside? It's pouring down sheets of rain. The streets are flooded. An ambulance can't make it here.'"
So Meloni printed out a map to the hospital and used a clear garbage bag, scissors and tape to waterproof his route plan. He then waded two miles in waist-high floodwaters to the hospital.
"My choices were to sit here and wait to die or Ranger up and take care of it," he said.
He arrived at the VA hospital soaked and smelling of the raw sewage he waded through. After a quick examination, doctors agreed he had a burst appendix. The police chief fished the surgeon from her home and delivered her to the hospital, where she successfully performed emergency surgery to remove the offending organ.
Meloni downplayed the heroism of his feat.
"If you told this story to your average Airborne Ranger or Seal or Green Beret, they'd say an Airborne Ranger got wet. Who cares?" he said.
Meloni credited his Ranger training for the skills and determination to complete the waterlogged hike.
"The way they make us is not with hugs and cupcakes," he said.
While Meloni was recovering in Houston, his wife, Julia, was back home in Oklahoma City, giving birth to their third daughter, Kate. The couple also have a 5-year-old, Rachel, and a 2-year-old, Lucy.
"When I heard what he had done, I was relieved he had made it," Julia Meloni said. "I was not surprised he had taken matters into his own hands."
The Melonis are used to following an unconventional path.
Matt Meloni was a criminal defense attorney in Phoenix for six years before he decided to walk away from his practice and join the military to fight ISIS.
Army recruiters urged him to use his legal experience to join the Judge Advocate General's Corps, but Melonis wanted to fight. At 34, he was much older than the rest of his class at Ranger school, but he soon joined the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.
"A normal wife would say this is crazy," he said. "She thought she was getting one life. She thought she married a lawyer and would have money. Instead, I told her I wanted to go where I could get killed and we'd get much less money. Any crazy thing I've ever said, she's supported me through it."
Julia Meloni said there was no question what they should do.
"I was really proud of him for wanting to take that step and for being willing to serve," she said. "I knew he had really noble motives, and I knew he would be a great asset to the Army. It was a big change, but I was always proud of him for choosing that."
After four years of service, Meloni considered extending his contract with the Army, but he said he was feeling slower and more tired. At the time, he attributed the decline to age and began looking for other options.
That led him to Oklahoma City and Enos and Hans Attorneys PLLC, an oil-field law firm that was founded in 2014 by Nathan Enos and Ted Hans.
Hans and Melonis met at Albany Law School. While they had little contact in the following years, they caught up and Hans told Meloni his young firm was having trouble keeping up with its growing business.
Even though he had no previous oil law experience, Meloni applied for a position at the firm.
"I don't know that I've heard a story or known somebody with his determination, refusing to be denied, refusing to quit," Hans said. "It's not a risk at all. It would be a missed opportunity if we didn't give a guy like that a chance."
Delays and complications
Meloni was expected to have started at the Oklahoma City law firm by now, but the past few months have been anything but smooth.
Formerly a practicing attorney in Phoenix, Meloni also has passed the bar exam in Arizona, New York and Massachusetts. But after not practicing law during his four years in the military, he had to take the exam again to be licensed in Oklahoma.
His father died the day he started studying for the bar, and he soon was diagnosed with prostate cancer. A military screening identified the cancer during the transition period after Meloni had announced his plans to leave service but before officially being honorably discharged.
Enos and Hans promised to hold his job and encouraged him to want until spring to take the bar.
"He said he wasn't willing to do that," Hans said. "He said he'd pretend he didn't have cancer for the next three weeks and sit for the bar exam."
Meloni received notification last week that he passed the exam.
He is back in Houston now, awaiting prostate surgery, which has been rescheduled for Wednesday.
Meloni is scheduled to start his new job later this month or in early October.
"We have supreme confidence that he's going to beat this, with all the other stuff he's faced," Hans said. "It's incredible what he's been through. If I wasn't witness to the whole thing, I wouldn't believe it. You wouldn't think it's true.
"He's an inspiring guy. We're looking forward to having him here."
©2017 The Oklahoman
Visit The Oklahoman at www.newsok.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.