Healing Heroes: As the war dies down, burn center’s future evolves
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She may never have worn a military uniform, but for the last four months, Linda Roberts has been soldiering on through the pain.
“There's no way you can imagine. It can happen just like that,” she said. "I have burns on all the front of my body."
Now, Roberts is rehabbing at the world renowned burn center inside the San Antonio Military Medical Center.
"The simple everyday things that you can't do anymore, that's tough," she said.
Roberts is recovering alongside soldiers like Staff Sgt. Robert Geer. An IED went off near him during his fifth tour in Afghanistan.
"You feel like you're invincible. Your mindset is, ‘Nah I'm never going to get hurt, until you finally do," he said. "It knocked me 10 feet into the air and onto a soldier pulling security. My first instinct was, I was on fire."
From the blast, he injured his arm and lost a chunk of his left side, starting from his back and continuing all the way down to his thigh.
"I'm still in the process of doing the therapy for mobilization and working with my arm to regain strength," Sgt. Geer said.
Since 2003, more than 800 service members burned in Iraq or Afghanistan have been transported to the U.S. Army's Institute of Surgical Research burn center, which is the only burn center for the department of defense.
However, with the war winding down, the center’s mission is changing.
The recent construction of a brand new 40-bed burn center, equipped with the latest in burn care technology, is helping them stay prepared.
"We were intimately involved in the design process to make sure things would be constructed that would directly meet our needs,” Head Nurse Lt. Col. Louis Stout said. “Not only our needs for today, but hopefully our needs for our future as well."
A future that's looking better when it comes to survival. According to Stout, 40 to 50 years ago, people suffering from 30 percent burns had a 50 percent of survival. Today, that has gone up from a 50 percent chance of survival for burns to nearly 80 percent.
"One of the primary areas that we've worked on is the early excision and grafting, so getting the patients into the operating room early, excising the skin properly and getting them on the healing process a lot sooner," Lt. Col. Stout said.
With more people living with severe burns, over the years, the rehab process had to be adjusted to help get burn survivors back on their feet.
"To be able to get out again, and to be able to come back into society, it's an amazing event," Sgt. Geer said.
Even though their paths to the burn center may have been different, Roberts says she and Sgt. Geer are on a similar journey.
"Mine was in a house fire. Theirs may have been in the fight,” she said. “We're all living the same thing.”