More Soldiers Survive Combat Injuries Then Ever Before

August 16, 2008

As many of you know, I worked for many years as a Paramedic. Throughout the time that I worked in the field of Emergency Medicine, I saw many advances in what we were able to do, to ensure that our patients survived their illness or injury. It’s been about 10 years now since I’ve worked in Emergency Medicine, but it’s remained something that is of extreme interest to me. I’ve marveled at the advances that have taken place, especially in Emergency Medicine over the years. New medications and equipment in the field, has allowed Paramedics to save the lives of people, that a few short years before, would have become casualties. Those advances have reached the combat zone as well. Because of those advances in the medical field, more and more Soldiers are surviving injuries sustained in combat than ever before. In fact that number has doubled as compared to the numbers during the Vietnam war.

“Overall, the battlefield care is much better than even in Desert Storm One. It’s really not what the doctors are doing. It’s Soldiers taking care of themselves; Soldiers taking care of each other. The best-trained medics we’ve ever had. The most courageous medics we’ve ever had,” said Dr. S. Ward Casscells, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. He noted that around 170 medics have given their lives in Iraq and many more have been wounded. “We train … them to do very quickly what EMT’s and even Paramedics do in the civilian sector. They learn fast. They’re 18 year old kids and they know they’re going to be using those skills, and they’re paying attention because they know that they themselves could be one of the patients. Don’t underestimate what an 18 year old kid who decided to defer college to serve his or her country can learn. They can learn a hell of a lot,” he said.1

At a government executive event on Wednesday, one of those medics spoke to a group of government and medical officials. That medic, SSG Matt Sims, was wounded on three separate occasions during his second deployment to Iraq. Due to the emergency care he received, he was never evacuated out of theater, but recovered from his injuries in theater. He gives credit to not only the outstanding training that the Soldiers receive, but also advances in medical equipment. He was able to demonstrate for the group, the different bandages and tourniquets, as opposed to the old versions that date back many years. He demonstrated how the older versions of bangades didn’t stretch as easily and were prone to tearing. With injuries such as what he received, a chest injury with a punctured lung, often several bandages had to be used, as the older versions proved to be difficult to stick to the wound.

With todays advances, such as the advances in tourniquets that each Soldier carries and some that are built into their uniforms. The same bangade can be converted into a pressure bandage and also be used as a tourniquet. The bandages are easy to open and all of the necessary parts are in the package. Immediate care and the advances in the equipment all spell a better survival rate for the wounded.

“Getting definitive care on the battlefield at the point of injury, I think, attests to most of the lifesaving on the battlefield. If you stop a bleed soon, keep a wound clean at the point of injury, it’s saving hundreds of lives,” Simms said. He also praised the extensive training that medics and Soldiers get on how to use the lifesaving equipment.2

Currently, every Soldier must be certified as a combat lifesaver. Quick evacuations from the point of injury are another thing that has went a long ways to save the lives of injured Soldiers. If Soldiers need to be evacuated after receiving initial treatment at the point of injury and at the combat support hospital, they’re evacuated in C-17’s that have been converted into flying intensive care units. They’re even equipped with ventilators and all are staffed by nurses. Injured servicemembers who are evacuated, are at a military hospital in the United States within 72 hours of their injury.

Both Casscells and Sims both said that burns were some of the hardest injuries to treat. In the field, the only thing a medic can do, is to keep the burn site clean to help stave off infection. Further treatment is provided at the Combat Support Hospital. Soon though, the military will have nonrejectable skin, servicemembers will be able to save skin stem cells to help regenerate skin. The military is also working on skin-growth factors and scar inhibitors.

One thing that Simms noted that is important to understand for all, has to do with protective gear. The advances in the protective gear Soldiers are issued is tremendous. The design is such that injuries have been significantly reduced. However, according to Sims, some of the gear is very uncomfortable and often Soldiers don’t use it because of that.

“The Army can make the best equipment in the world for burns. Best equipment to stop bullets. Best helmets and things like that. But if they don’t make it comfortable, Soldiers will not wear it, no matter how expensive, no matter how much money they spend. I know from experience; if it’s not comfortable to wear in Iraq, where it’s 100 degrees, if you don’t make something that can breathe, that’s comfortable to wear, Soldiers aren’t going to wear it … It’s not doing any good, if it’s lying on the side of the road or in the vehicle and they’re not wearing it,” he said, adding that leaders also need to make sure Soldiers use all of their protective gear.3

As a former Paramedic, this is exciting news. Working in that job, nothing felt better, than to know that my efforts enabled a person, who might otherwise die, to live a full and active life, because of the actions I took in the field. With these types of advances in emergency medical care, it means that not only do many more Soldiers survive their war injuries, but many more citizens are also able to survive injuries they incur as a result of traumatic accidents.

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4 Responses to “More Soldiers Survive Combat Injuries Then Ever Before”

  1. Tony Neria on August 18th, 2008 5:04 pm

    Sitting in front of me at my desk is a challenge coin that displays the emblem of the Navy Hospital Corpsman-HM. A Navy Corpsman saved my son-in-laws life last year when their Humvee was hit by an IED. Three Marines and one other Corpsman died in the blast. We own Sam’s life to the Navy Corpsman who took quick action to keep Sam alive. I remember when I went to visit Sam at the Bethesda NNMC after he was evacuated to the U.S.—I couldn’t sleep one night so around 3:00AM I walked over to the hospital to be with Sam (he was in a coma). When I walked in his room, there was a Navy Corpsman standing vigil over Sam—reading to him from a Harry Potter book. The Corpsman looked about 18—I’ll never forget the look of concern for the Marine he was caring for. I keep that coin within arms length at my computer where I work every day. Every now and then, I pick up the coin and say a little prayer for all the Navy Corpsman and Army Medics. They are the angels of the military.

  2. Terri on August 18th, 2008 7:59 pm

    I agree Tony. All the medics do such awesome work. Having worked in that field, I’m well aware of how hard it is on you, when you lose someone and how much it means when your work has been able to save someone. Hope that Sam is doing well and continuing to progress. Please keep us posted.

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