U.S. Army Sgt. Joey Bozik remembers
coming out of a coma at Walter Reed Army Medical Center not
fully understanding why he was there.
"I knew something had happened to me, I just didn't know
what," Bozik said.
He first inquired about his family, then about himself.
"I had an above-the-knee amputation of my right leg and a
below-the-knee amputation on my left leg. I had a
below-the-elbow amputation on my right arm. And on my left
hand, my thumb and pinkie were fractured and the metacarpals in
my hand were fractured and I fractured my wrist," Bozik said.
The human toll for the U.S. military in the Iraq war is not
limited to the nearly 2,000 troops deaths since the March 2003
invasion. More than 15,220 also have been wounded in combat,
including more than 7,100 injured too badly to return to duty,
the Pentagon said. Thousands more have been hurt in incidents
unrelated to combat.
Bozik, a 27-year-old from Wilmington, North Carolina,
recounted what happened to him, as he used his left hand and a
prosthetic right hand to pedal a stationary hand bike in the
physical therapy room at Walter Reed. His 25-year-old wife,
Jayme, stood watchfully behind.
On October 27, 2004, Bozik was in the front passenger seat
in a vehicle on patrol south of Baghdad, checking for insurgent
roadside bombs, known as improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Coming down a highway overpass, his driver steered the truck
more widely than the two vehicles in front.
It rolled over an anti-tank mine with two mortar rounds
attached. The explosion blew two other soldiers free of the
vehicle. But Bozik was trapped inside.
Military doctors say U.S. troops are surviving wounds in
Iraq that would have been fatal in previous wars due to
advances in medical care and body armor.
Military statistics showed that while 23 percent of U.S.
troops wounded in combat in World War Two died and 17 percent
in the Vietnam War, 9 percent of those wounded in Iraq and
Afghanistan died. Without the advances since Vietnam, the U.S.
death toll in Iraq would be nearly double the current total.
But military doctors said some troops who may have died in
previous wars are surviving, but with grievous injuries such as
multiple limb amputations. More than 300 troops have undergone
at least one limb amputation. By far the single biggest cause
of combat wounds are blasts from IEDs.
"We look at patients oftentimes and feel like it's a
miracle that they're alive," said Lt. Col. Paul Pasquina, chief
of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Walter Reed, which
has treated more than 4,400 troops hurt in Iraq.
"Someone who loses one limb is a challenge to get back to a
meaningful, functional lifestyle," Pasquina said. "But somebody
who loses three limbs, on top of other types of soft tissue
wounds, fractures, head injury, spinal-cord injury,
Pasquina and Lt. Col. Warren Dorlac, chief of trauma
surgery and critical care at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center
in Germany cited several factors for why a larger percentage of
wounded U.S. troops were surviving:
- advances in body armor, with torso armor better
protecting the chest and abdomen, heart and lungs and helmets
better protecting the brain;
- better trained and prepared battlefield medics;
- improved in-country surgical capabilities allowing
patients to be stabilized so they can be quickly flown out of
Moving patients to U.S. hospitals usually took 45 days
during the Vietnam War, but has been reduced to as little as 36
hours now. Most troops flown out of Iraq are then treated at
Landstuhl before being sent along to facilities in the United
States including Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas or Walter
Reed in Washington.
For the first anniversary of the blast that wounded him,
Bozik and his wife are planning a celebration with friends.
"We'll call it my 'life-day,"' Bozik said, wearing red
shorts and a white T-shirt with an athletic gear manufacturer's
slogan, "Just Do It."
"He's always got that positive attitude," his wife said.
"The way I look at it is I've been given a second chance on
life," Bozik said. "Everybody always wants to know what the
meaning of life is. I'm not saying I have the answer. But I can
tell you one thing, I have a better understanding of what
© Copyright 2005 Reuters Ltd