Speedy Care, Better Gear Help Troops Survive Injuries
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 3, 2005 Servicemembers fighting the war on terror are surviving what normally would be fatal injuries due to improved protective gear, better-trained combat medics and quicker evacuation procedures, according to a doctor who has been to the front line three times.
Army Dr. (Lt. Col.) George Peoples served two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan as part of a forward surgical team.
He now is chief of surgical oncology and on the general-surgery staff at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, where he has treated wounded servicemembers from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
One reason many critically injured servicemembers are coming home alive is because of the speed of the care provided on the battlefield, Peoples said during a March 1 interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel.
In Iraq, Peoples was one of 20 or so doctors, nurses and other health care professionals who made up the 224th Forward Surgical Team.
It takes the teams about an hour to set up an entire field hospital, he said. However, he added, using medical equipment from their backpacks, they can initiate surgical care within 15 minutes.
He said in combat, the forward surgical team's role is to perform "basic life- and limb-preserving procedures, and to get patients to the next level of care."
The mobile unit followed closely behind the 3rd Infantry Division during its initial war offensive in Iraq, and was within "meters of where some of the fighting was taken place," he said.
Peoples said having forward surgical teams able to set up as many as two portable operating rooms within minutes so "near to the point of injury" presented better opportunity to perform lifesaving procedures. "There, he continued, "you basically have a ground ambulance ... that can bring casualties of the battlefield directly to your door in matter of minutes."
And the military's ability to rapidly evacuate critically injured soldiers from the battlefield to the next level of care at facilities such as the Landstuhl (Germany) Regional Medical Center and Walter Reed, Peoples said, is another reason lives are being saved.
He said the Air Force handles the "movement piece" exceptionally well and helped reduce the evacuation time to four days from point of injury to Walter Reed, down from the previous 14-15 days.
"The quicker you can get persons back, I think the more efficiently they can be cared for, perhaps better cared for," Peoples said. "And ultimately I think that impacts their long-term health."
Peoples also pointed out the role combat medics and troops on the ground play in saving lives. "At the point of injury, a soldier's life is either saved or lost by the initial action taken by a combat medic or someone who has been trained in some basic first-aid skills," he explained.
Peoples said procedures such as placing a tourniquet, stopping bleeding or stabilizing injuries become very critical on how well patients are "going to do in the long run."
He pointed out that body armor and up-armored vehicles are another reason many lives are saved. "People are surviving these devastating injuries because they are not developing life-threatening injuries to the chest or abdomen," he said.
Peoples noted that body armor "protects the core of the soldier in their chest and abdomen" where "a lot of the injuries would have been mortal in previous combat."
He said the military is working to revamp body armor so that protective plating will cover even more body parts, and that ballistic eyewear has helped cut down the number of eye injuries. In addition, more military units now travel in armor-clad vehicles.
But even with these protective measures, Peoples said medical facilities are seeing "much more devastating extremity injuries," with damage to bones, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels and nerves.
"It's presented a real challenge for us surgically, but even more from a rehab standpoint," he said.
Peoples noted that more is being done to improve care for servicemembers needing rehabilitation services. "New facilities are being created, new resources are being put toward their care. This problem is being faced head on," he said, "because we know that we now have a generation of soldiers who have a lifetime ahead of them of having to deal with the ravages of this war."