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Iraq survivability rates boosted
by advances in wound treatment
and reconstructive plastic surgery techniques

U.S. surgeons reconstruct limbs of wounded U.S. service personnel
at a mobile medical surgical facility in Baghdad.
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

Editor's Note: WARNING - story contains graphic images.

By Emmett Berg, Bay City News Service

October 9, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - Two veterans seriously wounded in Iraq were on their feet today to praise plastic surgeons gathered at a conference in San Francisco, saying that doctors not only saved them from death or amputations but also helped restore their quality of life.

The personal reflections of U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Oscar Canon, 25, and fellow Marine Sgt. Douglas Hayenga, 23, followed a pictorial presentation by military plastic surgeons on modern wound care and the reconstructive plastic surgery techniques developed recently to save limbs and restore functionality.

Marine Corps Sgt. Douglas Heyenga, 23.

Marine Corps Sgt. Iscar Canon, 25.

"That graphic picture you saw up there was my leg," said Canon, who underwent 34 operations to save his leg and repair his shoulder and abdomen.

Canon was shot and received blast wounds from an exploding bomb during an ambush in Iraq in 2004. "Five years ago, even three years ago, that leg would not be here with us right now," he said.

Hayenga was hit by an exploding mortar round while inspecting a building during the military campaign to retake Fallujah in 2004. A year after he arrived back stateside for further wound care and rehabilitation, he still could not walk, and battled depression and a persistent infection.

But when his leg could bear weight again, he saw a big change.

"It was a little difficult," Hayenga said. "But as you see results, it really brings your spirits up."

Both men completed the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, Va., this year. Hayenga remains on active duty and has completed a bachelor's degree during his rehabilitation. Canon now helps recently injured soldiers through the process of adjusting.

"It doesn't change who you are, you just have to figure out the new tricks of the trade," Canon said.

The rate of injured limbs requiring amputation was 76 percent in the Vietnam War but has fallen to about 20 percent for soldiers injured in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to U.S. Navy Capt. Amy Wandel, who recently retired as a plastic surgeon at the Naval Medical Center, San Diego.

Captain Amy Wandel.

The reasons include faster transportation of the wounded to hospitals, better prevention of infection, and the development of techniques to preserve organs and tissue, which also speed the healing process. Many of the new advances were on display or presented at the conference, which marks the 75th anniversary of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Yet for all the medical advances described by the wounded marines and military surgeons, speakers allowed that soldiers' mental rehabilitation and what one colonel called "compassion fatigue" among medical caregivers required constant assessment.

Col. W. Bryan Gamble commands the Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany, the military's largest hospital outside the continental United States.

Col. W. Bryan Gamble.

"We have psychologists and chaplains that make personal contact with everyone on the staff, asking them if they are doing all right," Gamble said. "Compassion fatigue is a big concern. We need to keep our personnel on target, but in my experience, they are already so compelled to their missions.

"Of the 320-plus reservists in our hospital, one third have asked to stay on after their term of duty expires, even if it means spending another year away from their families," he said.

Plastic Surgery 2006 continues through Oct. 11 at the San Francisco Marriott.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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