Tuesday, July 27, 2010

New program rebuilding faces of soldiers, veterans

Master Sgt. Todd Nelson lost his right eye and ear in a flash when a car bomb in Afghanistan exploded, sending fire up his arm and over his head.

Although it's taken years of painstaking work, the military has given him a bright blue eye and ear lightly freckled and pinked from summer sun. They're not flesh and blood, but the glass and silicon replicas are so realistic, so perfectly customized, that they've given Nelson something else: the ability to face the world without shocking it.

"Honestly, people really don't know it's artificial," said Nelson, whose injuries three years ago included third-degree burns, a skull fracture and broken jaw. "In casual social interactions, I see much smaller cases where people stare."

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have brought a new kind of patient to the facial prothestics lab at the Lackland Air Force Base: wounded warriors, who have recently suffered heavy burns and multiple traumas. The lab is one of two major facial prosthetic programs in the Defense Department, and it has seen an unprecedented new stream of wounded soldiers.

Before the wars, the 26-year-old lab's patients were almost exclusively cancer and civilian trauma survivors, but "all of that prepared us for wartime, and that's really why our department is here," said lab director Dr. Joe Villalobos.

The lab doesn't track how many soldiers wounded from the war it's treated. However, before the wars began in 2001 and 2003, the facility rarely saw combat-related injuries - only an occasional Vietnam-era veteran looking for a new prostheses. Now, partly because the lab is across town from the Army's only burn center, wounded warriors make up about one-fifth of the roughly 425 patients they treat each year.

Source and More:

No comments: