Monday, August 29, 2005

Improved Survivability, Increase in Traumatic Injury

As I work on Project Valour IT, I begin to see an aspect of this project that I hadn't thought about before. First, I didn't realize how excited I would be about this project. Since it was a blog inspired project that was started by a friend of mine after she read about a soldier who was injured and whose blog I also read, it seemed natural that I should support the project.

Besides, it didn't take much time, just writing a post, asking readers to donate and putting our blog roll up on the side bar. Not much. Although, as several days went by, I was trying to think of new things to write about, new ways to convey the importance of the project.

As Fuzzybear Lioness wrote today, we have written about the emotional, the practical and the patriotic reason to support this project, but, it wasn't until I volunteered to help put some information together for a power point presentation on the project that I really started thinking about what the project really meant. What it might mean to the wounded soldiers and their recovery.

Wounded soldiers. That sounds so impersonal now. Very general. Even talking about the fact that the wounds include amputation of limbs or digits. You understand this? There are some parts of the body that are naturally the most likely to be affected from blasts and burns. Partly because the military has been able to greatly improve the body armor that our soldiers use. This armor now covers, not only the torso, but the neck, the groin and even has "shoulder" guards. They have helmets and ballistic glasses. Some soldiers have even invested in "tactical" gloves. Tactical gloves can also have kevlar in them. Police use them these days instead of just wearing rubber gloves to search a suspect because of the number of officers who have been inadvertantly stabbed with a needle. Some have contracted hepatitis C and even a case of AIDS or two.

For soldiers, tactical gloves lend one more layer of protection.

In a direct or indirect blast, the most vital areas are covered. Still, the most vulnerable areas of the body, those parts without armor, particularly joints of limbs and digits, are the areas that are likely to see significant wounds.

I'm hoping that, as you read this, it isn't too dry a topic for you. It's certainly been discussed before on other blogs. It's usually the information that we readers scan for inumbers, to affirm our knowledge about numbers of casualties and tuck away for future reference. But, this isn't a dry subject for the wounded. They live it every day. It's something that I'm getting more familiar with as the project goes on and it is the significant reason why this project was started.

There are many types of wounds that can render a soldier incapable of doing basic daily functions much less use a computer, either permanently or temporarily as they go through rehabilitation. According to the DoD, wounds by reason (updated through Aug 6, 2005) indicates the number of wounded (ie, not killed) in hostile action:

  • 6577 Explosive
  • 1301 Weapons or weaponry effect
  • 862 Gunshot
  • 766 Rocket/mortar
  • 530 Bomb (different than "explosive"?)
  • 39 Burns/Inhalation
  • 16 Grenade
  • 10091 Hostile Fire

    That does not include the number injured in transportation accidents hostile or non-hostile, parachute/jumps, etc.

  • 14120 total wounded according to Icasualties (updated through Aug 23, 2005).
  • 7350 Total returned to duty within 72 hours of wound
  • 6770 Total non-returned to duty within 72 hours (including those that had longer recovery times at medical units in Iraq and those evacuated to medical facilities in Germany and the United States)

    Those who do not return to duty suffer a multitude of types of wounds. Everything from soft tissue wounds, muscle damage, nerve damage, complicated and simple fractures, 2nd to 1st degree burns, amputations, spinal cord, neck and head wounds, and lost or damaged eye sight.

    According to this article in December of 2004, apprx 6% of the wounded require amputations compared to 3% in previous wars. In a strange way, this is good news. While reports indicate the number of amputations are up compared to other wars, the number of deaths and ratio of deaths compared to past wars is markedly decreased. In World War II, 30% of all wounded soldiers died, 24% in Vietnam and 10% in the Iraq war.

    It means more soldiers are surviving, but it also means that the types of traumatic injuries survived increases. This means long periods of recovery and rehabilitation. It also means that many soldiers have to learn how to do simple things like turn door knobs, button clothes, tie shoes, walk, drive and, yes, even use a computer.

    Most of us understand the concept of amputation of a limb impacting how a person would continue to perform daily liviing activities. It doesn't even have to be a whole arm, hand or leg. Simply missing several fingers, the digits and functionality that set us apart from other primates, can impact how a patient functions in their every day life.

    Many other wounds can be just as debilitating. With the advances in skin, artery, vein, ligament, tendon and bone grafts, more and more soldiers are able to keep their limbs. Some returning to as much as 90 to 100% functionality. Others may only retain 50% or less movement and functionality in limbs, hands and fingers. then there are those that suffer from neck, spine and head injuries. The same report indicates that 20% of the wounded suffer from this kind of trauma, possibly even in addition to their other wounds. Blasts can knock soldiers into obstacles or even just throw them to the ground with enough violence to damage these fragile places on their bodies as this online journal shows when a mother reported that her son suffered just such an injury. Recovering from these injuries takes long and often painful weeks and months of rehabilitation to gain the simplist use of damaged limbs, control of functions or use of prosthetics.

    You'd be surprised by the simple tools devised, called aids for daily living (ADL), to help overcome the difficulties experienced from having missing or damaged limbs. Things like button hooks and sock aids to help with dressing can take away some of the frustration of dressing and aid independence.

    Most of us take those simple tasks for granted and do not realize how depressing it would be if we were not able to control that one simple function in our life and must rely on someone else to assist us. These simple tasks are the things that rehab units at Walter Reed, Bethesda, Brooke and other military facilities focus on to help move injured soldiers towards basic functioning and independence.

    I've talked about the number and types of injuries. Now Soldiers' Angels is looking to supply our wounded soldiers with voice activated laptops at six facilities in the United States and Germany. These aren't frivolous toys, these laptops serve a number of practical purposes:

  • Allow soldiers to manage financial affairs like bills, banking and correspondence.
  • Allow soldiers to use their GI bill and take online college courses while they are recuperating and in between rehabilitation schedules.
  • Allow soldiers to search for employment opportunities and prepare for a future beyond the military and their future discharge from the hospital
  • Allow soldiers to handle personal and business correspondence

    These laptops will be voice activated, so soldiers that don't have the use of their arms, hands or fingers can still use the computer by simply speaking to it.

    Captain Ziegenfuss shows us how he uses it to keep his online journal.

    There is another aspect of using these computers that is even more important than these practical matters. As Beth at Fuzzilicious explains, there is a real impact on the healing process of these soldiers. She explains how the computer can act as a tool for developing and maintaining coping mechanisms to deal with the trauma of severe injury and separation from friends and family. The computers will help foster independence, maintain connection with their support network even when they can't be near, and re-connect them with the people that they have left behind in theater; the people that they have shared an intense part of their life with and whom they may feel most comfortable with sharing their thoughts and emotions with. All part of the healing process.

    It's the most important reasons why we are supporting this project and why I keep asking for your donations. We have a chance to be part of our wounded soldiers' recovery.

    We've set a substantial goal of providing 150 laptops to each facility. That's over 900 laptops at a cost of $600k. You can tell by the number of wounded and the reasons they were wounded that there are a lot of men and women coming into these facilities that could use these laptops. The quantity of 150 may not even be sufficient for the numbers, but will be an excellent start.

    Keep in mind, we aren't waiting to collect this total amount to move forward with the project. As the donations come in, we're buying laptops and sending them out to the hospitals for immediate use. We've already purchased 20 laptops, software and accessories. The first 10 have arrived and are being readied to send out in the next week. So, the numbers shouldn't daunt you from participating since a single unit only costs us $625.00 each, including the software and accessories.

    Yesterday, this blog had over 20 regular readers and over 80 new visitors. Can you imagine what we could do with only a $6.00 donation from each? We would have had a new computer in one day. That would have been one more soldier receiving a gift of caring and healing.

    If you've donated already, it's greatly appreciated. We hope that you will keep donating to this unique project.

    Tomorrow, I'm going to post about how people can help support this project with time and effort, which is just as valuable as your money. We'll review types of community, corporate and media projects we can do to help promote and fund Project VALOUR IT.

    You too can be some of the few and the proud. If you have some experience, suggestions or ideas on how the project can be supported, your input will be greatly appreciated.

  • 2 comments:

    redleg said...

    Kat

    thanks for the reminder.

    We owe our wounded warriors the very best. I know more than my fair share but I have been lucky enough never to have been hit.

    Just gave 50 bucks.

    All of you out there give what you can too. Every penny counts.

    Thanks for speaking for them Kat

    Anonymous said...

    Kat,

    Thank you for posting on my blog and offering to link it. A more interesting blog is:

    http://twentyfourstepstoliberty.blogspot.com/

    written by an Iraqi, it gives you an idea of what regular people are going through every day.