A Soldier's Life after Losing a Limb
Many Americans know that the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan use IEDs as their weapon of choice. These deadly homemade bombs have caused a significant rise in blast injuries, with more than 1,600 Americans having lost a leg or arm in combat during these wars. Because many of the wounded are in their early twenties and thanks to advances in battlefield medicine, more soldiers are surviving injuries that would have been fatal in previous American wars. Just a few days ago, a photo on Facebook of a Marine amputee being carried by his wife went viral. American Thinker interviewed those personally affected.
David Wellington, in his latest book, Chimera, wanted his main character, Jim Chapel, a Special Forces veteran, to be an amputee. He told American Thinker, "Because I was so struck by how horribly wounded the soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan were, I decided to make my main character an amputee to talk about it. I also wanted to delve into the psychological aspect of the stigma of losing a limb."
Zach Harvey is the former lead prosthetist at Walter Reed, who now works for Bulow Biotech Prosthetics. He discussed with American Thinker the different types of prosthetics available. The five main types of arms and hands are the cosmetic type, which has limited function; the electronic type, which has a motor that makes it heavier; the cable-operated type, powered by the body; and the recreational device, which can be attached to utensils, golf clubs, fishing rods, and skis; and the old-fashioned hook. Regarding the leg, there is the "cheetah blade," used for running; varieties of legs where the feet can be switched out; and what most military amputees opt for: a heavier version that is more durable and can do many different functions.
Zach feels that the hardest part of his job is to make sure the prosthetic fits securely with the body socket, since every few years the amputees need to readjust it as their body changes. "For me, the most challenging aspect is working with that socket, because the tolerance for error is very slim. Feedback from the patients is very important to help us recommend what should and should not be selected." Zach told American Thinker that many of the soldiers he dealt with have the mentality of perseverance and were more than willing to discuss their situations.
Army Ranger Sergeant First Class Joseph Kapacziewski wrote a book, Back In The Fight, to inform those who lost limbs, as well as American citizens, what the injured go through. On October 3, 2005, while on a mission in Northern Iraq, he and his convoy were attacked by insurgents. A grenade fell through the gunner's hatch and exploded, shattering Joe's right leg below the knee, damaging his right hip, and severing a nerve and artery in his right arm. After enduring more than forty surgeries, because of the chronic pain and limited mobility, in 2007 he decided to amputate his right leg.
Joe is an inspiration, since he was the first amputee to return to full combat duty in the Ranger regiment. Since Joe lives for being a Ranger, he took its motto, "never surrender," to heart. He puts himself through the grueling training that the Army Rangers require to prove that he is fit for combat. He discussed in the book how he must have a proficiency of 80% for the pushup and sit-up drills, do a two-mile run, a five-mile run in under forty minutes, a twelve-mile foot march with forty pounds of gear under three hours, and a parachute jump out of airplanes. In addition, he had to learn to fast rope out of helicopters without the use of his legs, and to avoid the friction burns by using multiple hand gloves.
He feels that he not only met the Ranger standards, but also "in some cases exceeded them. I do feel there are always eyes on me, and I have to perform at my best constantly. Since I have become an amputee I have had five deployments to Afghanistan. I did not want to lose my leg, because I thought that would mean I was a cripple. I had to prove to myself that I could still achieve what I wanted to by putting in the hard work and the time. My 'Ranger tough' wife, Kim, helped me considerably."
Kim wants Americans to understand that family members also endure the hardship of an injury and must display outward and inner courage. For her, the nightmare started when she saw his injuries. "I thought I was going to faint when I saw his leg. No one warned us about how much pain he was in. The 'phantom pains' were just unbelievable. He would put his head in the pillow to scream and cry. I stayed up all night long to press the pain medication button so he could rest."
Another hero, Dan Berschinski, a former Army Captain, lost both legs in 2009 after stepping on an IED while fighting in Afghanistan. He noted, "I knew immediately what had happened. I pictured myself as Lieutenant Dan from Forest Gump. My first thoughts were that if I do live, I do not want to live like this. Once I got to Walter Reed, my thoughts had changed to 'my brain and hands are okay, so I should have hope.'" Going on four years, he still has the phantom pains of cramping in his toes and a lightning bolt shooting down his leg, even though in that leg the amputation was above the thigh.
Having worked with many military amputees as part of the Amputee Coalition, Dan told American Thinker that many do not opt for the cosmetic prosthetic that looks like a real limb. "I have had people come up and tell me, 'your leg looks like a Transformers piece,' which I think is really cool. I chose this piece because I accept my injury, and there is nothing out there that can adequately replace my real legs. Amputees are embracing the high-tech nature of their lives. When I am home, I do not wear my legs. I use my wheelchair, since I can move faster, carry stuff, and do some hard work. I also wear shorts a lot because I am not embarrassed and do not need to hide my prosthetic. I am determined to make a life for myself and will be starting Stanford graduate school in the fall."
Another soldier, Marco, an Army combat engineer, lost his left arm above the elbow and his left leg when a roadside bomb under his Humvee exploded in 2007. Unfortunately, he is left-handed, so he had to learn to do a lot of functions with his right arm and hand. He found that "to replace an arm is hard. A prosthetic arm is more of an assistance device, but never a replacement. Writing, using a hammer, lifting weights, pushing buttons, touching people -- all these activities people take for granted are very difficult to do without a real arm and hand. I have learned to do a lot with my right arm and hand, including lifting silverware, dressing myself, and becoming independent. Currently I am going to school, and someday I hope to work for the Veterans Affairs."
Everyone agrees with Dan: that Americans should know that "I am grateful that the military supported putting me back together and able to function in the civilian world. I will pay it back in the long run by not sitting on my butt and feeling sorry for myself, but by being a positive part of society." Kim Kapacziewski, who works closely with Operation One Voice takes it a step farther: "People need to remember that most of these soldiers are young, in their twenties. I don't want them to take the short, easy road and do nothing but collect their benefits. Americans need to help them find opportunities to contribute to society and become productive. They need a reason to get up and out of bed every day, so they should be given opportunities. They should not be encouraged to accept their injury as the defining moment in their lives."
The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews, author interviews, and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.