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Journalist Covers Experiences, Injury in Iraq

Journalist Covers Experiences, Injury in Iraq

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CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier discusses her long road to recovery following injuries resulting from a roadside bomb explosion in Iraq. Her recent op-ed article in the Washington Post details the complicated and painful process of rehabilitation.

ANTHONY BROOKS, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Anthony Brooks in Washington.

And right now, it's time for the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page. You might recognize the name Kimberly Dozier. She's the CBS News correspondent who survived a car bomb attack in Baghdad last year. The Army captain she was following and his Iraqi interpreter were killed, so was her two-man CBS crew. Six other soldiers survived.

They joined a growing number of U.S. troops who survived serious injuries in Iraq - a figure that is higher than in any other previous U.S. conflict. That means more U.S. troops make it out of Iraq alive, but it also means they survived long enough to develop all sorts of serious and rare side effects -complications that doctors don't always know how to treat.

Kimberly Dozier faced a number of them during her treatment and recovery from her harrowing injuries. She's back in the U.S. and joins us now from CBS bureau in Washington, D.C. And Kimberly Dozier, welcome to the show.

Ms. KIMBERLY DOZIER (Correspondent, CBS News): Thank you very much, Anthony. It's great to be able to bring some attention to this.

BROOKS: Well, it's good to have you here and we're very grateful. Let me also invite our listeners to join the conversation. If this story sounds familiar, if you have a family member who suffered injuries in Iraq - to their arms, to their legs - tell us your story. 800-989-8255. You can e-mail us at talk@npr.org.

And, Kimberly, let me, first of all, ask how you're doing?

Ms. DOZIER: I'm doing remarkably well when you consider the laundry list of things that were wrong with me right after the bombing. I've - from head to toe the bomb had sent shrapnel through me, through all of the guys around me. And it's just…

BROOKS: Well, I think there are a lot of…

Ms. DOZIER: …a matter of…

BROOKS: Yeah, I'm sorry. I think there are a lot of people who don't know the full story. And I'm just wondering if you can tell us what happened. It was last May.

Ms. DOZIER: Last May, Memorial Day, we were out with the U.S. patrol. We'd gone to a relatively safe neighborhood called the Karada, just across the river from the Green Zone, just a 10-minute drive away. And we'd stopped and gotten out of our Humvees to check out an area where a roadside bomb had gone off the day before. The captain we were following wanted to talk to locals and see what they had seen.

So it was intelligence gathering. It was also a chance to shake hands with people and do some outreach. And as we were walking towards a group of Iraqis, the car bomb went off. It turns out, whoever had left the roadside bomb the day before, they believe it also left this car bomb planted there that was supposed to get the rescuers who responded to the roadside bomb the day before. No rescuers came the day before so the car bomb sat there waiting for a target. And whoever was sitting with their hands on the trigger, just kept watching the street until we walked in.

BROOKS: Hmm. And you, of course, where critically injured. Since then, you write that you've learned more about how the medical profession puts injured troops back together again than you ever wanted to know. What it did take to put you back together again?

Ms. DOZIER: Well, head to toe, I had small penetrating shrapnel wounds to my head so I did have what they call TBI, traumatic brain injury, the shrapnel had to be removed. But I joke with Bob Woodruff from ABC as he looked, you handle TBI and I'm going to handle the arms and the legs stuff. From then on, I had minor burns to my arms. And then my legs - the shrapnel hit both - broke both femurs, one of them in three places, and burned flesh away, skin, in some cases, muscle from my hips all the way to my ankles.

And that meant - by the time I arrived to Germany at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Facility, the doctors had to start literally putting me back together. So first I went to Baghdad where they stabilized me. My heart stopped twice. They got enough blood into me to keep me going. Then they evacuated me to Balad where they have a head and neck specialist team. They took out the shrapnel. And then they got me on a plane to Germany. So each step of the way, they fixed one part and moved me down the line to the next station in the factory, so to speak. Now, what I didn't know was - okay, they're really good at that first part. The…

BROOKS: The sort of battlefield triage part of it.

Ms. DOZIER: Exactly.

BROOKS: Yeah.

Ms. DOZIER: They've made incredible strides in keeping you alive in that golden hour by getting you medical care right away - everyone with me. It was a soldier who tied the tourniquets on me and made sure that I stayed alive, not a medic. The medics sort of checked in on me. The soldier had the information to keep me alive.

They got me to a Landstuhl in a condition where, you know, I had no business surviving. But then it was all the other stuff. You think the worst is past. But then there were all sorts of other battles down the line. Thank goodness the guys at Landstuhl had been in the field for about nine months. They were not green. They were as trauma and battlefield surgeons. They've seen cases like mine before. So when my right leg turned black, instead of amputating immediately, which would be what a brand new surgeon to a battlefield would do, they said to themselves, you know, we've seen in other cases that this blackness, it might be bruising, it might not indicate that the tissue is entirely dead. So they put hot packs on my leg, gave it 36 hours, brought it back. That was the gamble. It could have killed me. But they saved my leg.

That kind of data from all the things that they did to me along the way is actually being lost. When I went back to Landstuhl nine months later to film for the CBS special last spring, the doctors were so amazed of seeing me. They wanted to see what my grafts look like. When I told them I had CT scans of my legs and the way the bone has healed, they were just desperate to get copies of that. Because they don't get to see what happens down the line with the decisions they're making. Which means, when this batch of surgeons, after their yearlong tour, leaves and goes back to the states, somebody else is starting from scratch again, learning, oh, that kind of leg sometimes can survive.

BROOKS: Right. If you're just joining us, we're talking to Kimberly Dozier who survived a car bomb attack in Iraq. She wrote a piece for The Washington Post this past weekend called "What I Faced After Iraq." And we're talking to her about the kind of injuries that an increasing number of soldiers are coming home and having to deal with. If you know of anything about this kind of injury, have experienced it, or have people in your family, you can give us a call at 800-989-8255. That's 800-828-TALK.

Let's go to Hernando(ph) who's calling from Las Vegas.

Hernando, hi. You're on the air.

HERNANDO (Caller): Good afternoon. Thank you for the program. I really love NPR and the way they address the information. I have a son that is a medic with the Navy and he was in Baghdad and they got ambushed. So my son was trying to take care of a woman that was wounded. And somebody was shooting from the roof and he got shot twice on his right arm, which is the one where - the only one that he has to write and do whatever he needs to do on his daily life.

We are immigrants from South America and I told my two children to go and join the Army forces in this country because I believe that this country give us a lot and we had to give something back. But now, I'm really wondering about that and I had nightmares thinking about it that I told my son about it, because he is tangled in the bureaucracy where it's really hard for him to know what's going to happen in the future. I just learned that he's trying to go to school. He wants to go to school and do something with his life. And he might not be able to do what he really wishes because the G.I. Bill is not going to shoulder(ph) the whole thing.

BROOKS: Sure.

HERNANDO: It's a lot of issues that are really, really had me inside, eating me inside.

BROOKS: Yeah. Hernando, well, let me get Kimberly Dozier.

Kimberly, what do you hear in Hernando - the story about Hernando's son.

Ms. DOZIER: Well, every time somebody steps forward and gets to an official and brings to their attention, look, this is what's happening - and not just with this one person, but it's happening with several people. I'm finding - when I meet people in the Pentagon - that when they hear about some of this stuff, it's eye opening, and then they want to do something about it. It's a matter of time, money, bureaucracy.

Now, when I published this piece yesterday in The Washington Post, I was shocked that by the end of the day, I had a response, that I can share with you, from the assistant secretary of defense, Ward Casscells. And he said that your article has prompted us to review the extremity program including its funding. He's asked the head of the Army review it and get input from the Army surgeon general's orthopedic consultant and look into things like Acinetobacter, the bacteria that I had that so many injured troops have.

So what I would say to Hernando is, you know, get to your congressman or senator or get to your local veteran support group and find other people who are having the same problem because a group of you together, that collective voice is what you need to make people understand, okay, this is what's happening to me and not just to me but to several other people caught in the system.

The impression I get is that the U.S. military in general - it's the same kind of things I saw when I was hospitalized - a lot of well-intentioned people who are literally overwhelmed by the numbers and the length of time this has gone on.

BROOKS: Yeah. In the piece, you mentioned that your recovery was relatively fast but you stressed that with more research victims could heal even faster…

Ms. DOZIER: Yeah.

BROOKS: …and probably avoid the kind of complications that Hernando's son is having.

Ms. DOZIER: Yeah. And it'll take years of research to answer some of these questions so that there's even more immediacy. We have to start now because it's going to take a while to figure this stuff out.

BROOKS: We're talking to Kimberly Dozier. She's a Middle East-based correspondent for CBS News. She survived a car bomb attack in Iraq when she was reporting from Iraq. And she wrote a piece in The Washington Post over the weekend called "What I Faced After Iraq."

You can give us a call. 800-989-8255, 989-TALK. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's take a call. Let's go to Rick(ph) who's calling from Augusta, Georgia.

Hi, Rick.

RICK (Caller): Hi. How are you today?

BROOKS: Very well. Thank you. Thanks for the call.

RICK: Ms. Dozier, first of all, thank you for going and trying to at least get some good information, because there's a lot of really bad misinformation out there about Iraq and about what's going on with our soldiers. I'm currently serving on active duty after two tours in Iraq. The last one put me in Landstuhl for a month, ahead slightly (unintelligible) there, Ms. Dozier.

Ms. DOZIER: You know, when I was in Landstuhl, I was in such bad shape I wasn't allowed to leave my room. So you're one up on me.

RICK: Okay. All right. I ended up spending a month there. And I had a broken jaw, a broken shoulder and shrapnel across the abdomen and leg from an IED attack. But the reason I was there for so long was because the Air Force lost my paperwork - not just once, but twice.

Ms. DOZIER: Wow.

RICK: And when they finally said I could go, my family is at home going, hey, when are you coming home? When are you coming home? I said, I don't know. And when I finally got home, I was placed at Madigan Army Hospital at Fort Lewis and wasn't allowed - even though I lived 300 miles away, I was not allowed to go home. I believe that family interaction, being able to see your family, trying to get back to some normalcy. I didn't know if you experienced the same thing as well when you got home. Being able to experience your family contact really helps a lot with your healing process.

BROOKS: All right, Rick. Well, thank you so much for the call.

RICK: Okay. Thank you.

Ms. DOZIER: Yeah. I totally agree with Rick about the family input. One thing that CBS was able to do for me that, you know, doesn't happen for most injured troops, is that they brought my family members all to Germany - as many as they could gather. And then kept them up at some pretty pricey hotels in Bethesda, Maryland to stay with me during my six weeks in Bethesda. Now, that cost a pretty penny. And only if you work for a U.S. television network can you afford something like that.

Most of the troops on the haul, even if there was space at Fisher House - which is a fantastic facility that provides low-cost - like $10 a day housing for the families of injured troops - even if there's space there, well, you know, most of these families, they work, and you can't take six weeks off from work to be with someone who is lying in a hospital bed injured. But when you're lying in that hospital bed, one of the most important things for me is not just the emotional support of having my family there, but having them there as patient advocates.

Every time I came across one of these really tough decisions, you know, when I had this bacteria infect me, this Acinetobacter, I had to choose between one course of action, which meant the drug they wanted me to take would kill the bug but it would also kill my kidneys and I would have to on dialysis, or I would have to take risks. Now, that was a scary decision and I needed all the help I could get. So my family provided both emotional support and then they called around to different doctors and got second opinions. And that was part of what helped me get out of there faster and in better shape than I believe some of the troops are coming out.

BROOKS: Well, there have been folks pushing for more funding to do sort of more research on these kinds of injuries which, as you suggest in your piece, are so prevalent with the kind of war we're involved with and the kind of protection afforded to soldiers now. Why hasn't there been more funding for this research? What is slowing it up?

Ms. DOZIER: Well some of the staffers I've spoken to - CBS allowed me to speak to Senator Inouye, Congressman Murtha, as long as I don't lobby for a particular program. So I've tried to educate them about all the programs I'm aware of in this field. And what they told me is that, wow, we didn't know this was a problem. What happens is it's probably the media's fault. Because of us, certain injuries become in vogue. At first, it was combat amputees because, hey, especially in TV, there's nothing that tells the story quite like seeing that picture.

And so there was a rush in Congress - let's fund combat amputee research, let's build great facilities to help them out, and all that was done. And then TBI -traumatic brain injury - started to become an issue. And then my colleague Bob Woodruff over at ABC was badly injured. He had massive TBI damage. And he worked hard to bring attention that. So, as I understand from the staffers I was speaking to, they got a big aid package through to fund that kind of research. Now, I walk in the door and say, well, folks, guess what? There's something else. And guess what? Four out of five of the injured troops from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from it, or this laundry list of different problems.

And so they were kind of blindsided, surprised, happy to be educated. But like everything else with this war, there's funding fatigue, like, okay, we didn't know we had that problem. Now, where are we going to get the money to pay for that?

BROOKS: Well, Kimberly Dozier, I want to thank you so much for coming in and I wish you the best of luck.

Ms. DOZIER: Thank you.

BROOKS: That's Kimberly Dozier, correspondent for CBS News. Her op-ed, "What I Faced in Iraq," ran in yesterday's Washington Post. There's a link to it at npr.org/blogofthenation.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Anthony Brooks.

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