U.S. combat trauma hospital is a lifesaver for civilians

  • Article by: ANNA JOHNSON , A ssociated Press
  • Updated: October 1, 2008 - 8:44 PM

While security continues to improve, Iraqi medical care is years behind U.S. standards. The military is filling the gap. Summary.

BALAD - The U.S. military's main combat hospital in Iraq has increasingly switched to helping Iraqis. As the numbers of wounded Americans have fallen, the hospital is now saving the lives of a remarkable 93 percent of Iraqis who come with devastating injuries.

"There are people with injuries that are brought here, and I say this with confidence, if they went anywhere else in the world they would not survive," said Col. Mark Mavity, the hospital commander.

One recent day at the Air Force Theater Hospital, 5-year-old Sajad Lafta lay in his bed crying for his father while his older half brother, Abdul Wahid, tried to comfort him.

The boy didn't know yet that Wahid, 25, came to visit him because his father was attending the funerals of two of his other young sons. They were killed by a car bomb that blew off Sajad's lower left leg and left tiny pieces of metal all over his body.

The hospital on Balad Air Base has become synonymous with combat trauma care. It is best known for saving U.S. soldiers with catastrophic battle injuries -- more than 96 percent during the six-month period ending in August.

During that same time, about 93 percent of Iraqis left the hospital alive.

Their injuries are devastating -- shredded limbs, penetrating shrapnel fragments, massive internal bleeding and gaping head wounds.

The car bomb that wounded Sajad exploded the evening of Sept. 12 in the town of Dujail, killing at least 32 people, including his 7- and 6-year-old brothers as they walked home after buying a few pieces of candy.

Local hospital rejected him

Sajad was the only one still breathing. After the local hospital turned the boy away because his wounds were too severe, Sajad was taken by a U.S. helicopter to Balad Air Base, about 50 miles north of Baghdad.

Of the 11 Iraqis wounded in the blast who were taken to the hospital, 10 survived. The 11th was dead on arrival.

As soon as the Iraqis arrived, a team of doctors and nurses began operating -- up to eight patients at a time. Nine hours later, at 4 a.m., they called it a night.

Trauma surgeon Lt. Col. Debra Malone spent four hours on Day Two with one man alone, closing up his amputated finger, reconnecting pieces of his shredded bowel and washing out wounds.

"This man is a poster child for what we see here -- head-to-toe injuries. He would have possibly not survived if he didn't come here," said Malone, a practicing physician at the University of Maryland Medical Center and chief of the medical research branch at Air Force headquarters.

As Iraq gets better at handling its own security, it is miles away from providing the level of medical care and other type of assistance provided now by U.S. military facilities.

For now, many Iraqis must rely on the United States to treat their blast wounds.

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