War Surgery in Afghanistan and Iraq

A Series of Cases of 2003-2007

by Shawn Christian Nessen, Dave Edmond, M.D. Lounsbury and Stephen P., M.D. Hetz

Hardcover, 441 pages, Claitors Pub Div, List Price: $71 | purchase

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Title
War Surgery in Afghanistan and Iraq
Subtitle
A Series of Cases of 2003-2007
Author
Shawn Christian Nessen, Dave Edmond, M.D. Lounsbury, et al

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Excerpt: War Surgery In Afghanistan And Iraq

FOREWORD EXCERPT BY BOB WOODRUFF


foreword

On January 29, 2006, I was riding on top of an Iraqi APC (armored personal

carrier), heading down a road in Taji, Iraq, that was supposed to represent a

success story of the war: a collaboration between US and Iraqi forces against the

insurgents. As the newly named co-anchor of ABC World News Tonight, I was

in Iraq to cover President Bush’s State of the Union address and to report on the

positive stories of the war—the hard work of the military to train and empower

local forces on the ground.

In an instant, an improvised explosive device (IED ) exploded about 20 yards from

the vehicle, and my life was changed forever, as well as that of my cameraman,

Doug Vogt. The force of the blast, a 155-mm shell, shattered my skull over the left

temporal lobe. Hundreds of rocks, packed around the IED , were blasted into the

side of my face. One rock, the size of a child’s marble, sheared my helmet chinstrap

in half and traveled through the left side of my neck, coming to rest on the carotid

artery on the other side of my head.


For the next 36 days, I would remain in a medically induced coma; but the quick

actions and amazing skills of the medics, military doctors, nurses, and assistants

would not only save my life, but also save my brain function following this lifethreatening

injury. Their experiences with such large numbers of those wounded

by IED s, most of whom would not have survived in previous wars, gave them the

confidence to make split-second decisions. In the medical barracks of Balad, the

doctors did not hesitate, giving me the chance for the best possible outcome.


One of the most amazing stories I heard later, which speaks to me of the dedication

of our men and women in uniform, is a story about the MEDE VAC pilots. After

the IED exploded, a gunfight ensued and the helicopter pilots were instructed not

to land. Unaware of who was on the ground and only knowing that someone

needed help, these pilots turned down the radio, ignored the order, and landed. I

was then taken to Baghdad, assessed, and then sent to Balad, where—within the

hour—my skull flap was removed and my brain began swelling. From Balad, I

was sent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, a major way station

for wounded soldiers en route to the United States. Just 60 hours after my family

arrived there, I was ready to be transported again to neurosurgical care at the

National Naval Medical Center (also known as Bethesda Naval Hospital) outside

of Washington, DC.

 


It was there that I received top-notch medical care from an expert team of dedicated

military specialists. It was their skill, perseverance, team approach, and kindness

that created a platform from which to heal. In writing this foreword, I want to

applaud the efforts, bravery, and dedication of the American military. It is well

known that much of cutting edge medicine in civilian life comes from the valiant

efforts, ingenuity, and pure guts of the battlefield physicians in an effort to save

lives under extreme conditions. I am not a hero. I leave that to the men and women

serving their country in uniform who put their lives on the line every day for our

freedoms. After their wounds, their lives (like mine) are changed forever. What do

we owe these men and women? How do we measure our debt to them and their

families? What will be our legacy of how we treat those with long-term injuries—

such as traumatic brain injury, posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and other

mental illnesses—that can require years of appropriate therapy as the brain heals

and the body regenerates?


George Washington, our nation’s first Commander in Chief, said, “The willingness

with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how

justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier

wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.” Today, in the face of so many

injured returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are faced with a wave

of wounded, many of them young, all of them returning to a life vastly different

than what they left, and families who must learn to deal with a new reality. Are we

adequately meeting that charge from our founding father?


Once I passed through the acute stage of my injury, the real work began with

my long journey to heal during rehabilitation. Time, energy, commitment, and

dedicated professionals supplied the framework to help my brain heal. The love

and encouragement of family and friends provided my personal motivation to “get

my brain back.”


I hope that this book instructs deployed physicians in aspects of the care of initial

injuries. But may it also serve as a stepping-off point to focus on continuing that

quality of care in the long road to rehabilitation following the injury. My family

and I are so appreciative and forever grateful for the medical care that I received

from the military. It is our dream that the attention to the wounded remains as

focused in the long journey to heal as it is in those white-hot moments in the

surgical theater when nothing is spared to save a life.

Bob Woodruff

July 2007