Providing a Century of Warrior Care: Walter Reed Turns 100 Years Old

By Coleman, Craig; Ellis, Kristin | Soldiers Magazine, May 2009 | Go to article overview

Providing a Century of Warrior Care: Walter Reed Turns 100 Years Old


Coleman, Craig, Ellis, Kristin, Soldiers Magazine


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

HE saw the improvised explosive device just before the explosion.

Staff Sgt. Brian Shar, a team leader on a convoy moving between bases near Baghdad, saw what looked "like a giant cartoon rock, about 18 inches wide, 11 inches tall."

The explosion removed both of Shar's legs above the knee, caused nerve damage in one arm and serious internal injures. Advances in battlefield medicine helped him survive, and 100 years of experience caring for wounded warriors helps Walter Reed Army Medical Center provide Shar and other patients with the best health care and rehabilitation technologies available.

WRAMC celebrates its 100th anniversary this month. From its start as an 80-bed hospital, Walter Reed has grown to a 247-bed medical center with 60 outpatient clinics and 16 operating rooms. It is the only Department of Defense medical-treatment facility with a clinic dedicated solely to wounded warriors and their families. As one of the world's premier military medical facilities, it combines patient care, teaching and research. For Soldiers like Shar, that expertise means the chance to walk again.

Shar arrived at Walter Reed Sept. 23, 2007, after being medically evacuated from Iraq via Landsthul Regional Medical Center in Germany. Wounds like his often require multiple surgeries, as doctors remove debris, bacteria and dead flesh in a life-or-death battle against infection. Shar endured several of these "wash-outs" and was released from in-patient care after about one month.

Soon after his initial release, he suffered a setback, when severe back pain led to a trip to the emergency room. He was informed by a staff member that his wheelchair was leaking. In fact, the pain came from fluid collecting in his back due to shrapnel wounds. The fluid was flowing out of a wound and dripping to the floor. He was rushed to surgery, where part of his colon was removed.

"They could have given me a colostomy bag and let my body heal, but they didn't," Shar said. "They removed the damaged organ tissue and hand-sewed me back together for six hours."

Shar spent another month as an in-patient recovering from his intestinal injuries, and was released in late November. His goal was to walk by Christmas. "They had me up and walking within three months of being injured, when I was only out of bed for one of those months. The treatment here is great."

Shar walks into the Walter Reed orthopedic clinic on prosthetics called C-Legs, fitted and fine-tuned. Daniel Carroll, a WRAMC-certified prostheticist, rotates the threaded post of a three-legged stand that looks like a miniature swivel stool. The platform rises and Shar rests the stump of his right leg on the stand.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

They are in an examining room in the prosthetics lab, where fittings for artificial limbs are created and adjusted to give the patient optimal movement and comfort. Pairs of prosthetic legs lie abandoned in corners and against walls. The faint scent of plaster wafts in from the workshop next door. Shar and Carroll check the socket that connects the prosthetic to his thigh, looking for the place where adjustment is needed.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

A C-leg is a prosthetic for above-the-knee amputees that combines microprocessors, sensors and hydraulics to allow amputees to walk. Carroll said the evolution in prosthetics that brought patients from wooden legs to the alloy prosthetics of today is due to new materials. For example, "carbon fiber as a material is flexible enough to duplicate ankle motion without bumpers and moving parts."

Carroll said older technology, like the Solid Ankle Cushioned Heel foot, could not store energy and help the patient walk. "When (the C-leg) is compressed and returns to its normal shape, it will give propulsion to hopefully duplicate some of the muscle activity the patient has lost."

The Military Advanced Training Center is a recent addition to Walter Reed. …

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