While two weeks away from the comforts of home may seem like a long time, Patrick Geraghty, M.D., realized that his two weeks in Germany treating wounded U.S. soldiers was nothing compared to the long tours of duty they face.
Geraghty, associate professor of surgery, went to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany Jan. 3-18 to lend his expertise as a vascular surgeon.
The Society for Vascular Surgery, of which Geraghty is a member, has coordinated volunteer vascular surgeons for two years to relieve the limited number of vascular surgeons in the military.
Soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have a high rate of injuries caused by improvised explosive devices or from high-velocity crashes. Although the soldiers wear body armor, it primarily protects their torso and abdomen, leaving arms and legs exposed, according to Geraghty.
“These soldiers have multiple extremity injuries, which can be very disabling,” he said. “The injuries require the attention of several surgical specialties to achieve a good outcome.”
All significant injuries treated at the U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan are evacuated to LRMC for ongoing treatment and stabilization. Fortunately, casualty rates have fallen in recent months. Geraghty’s team treated five or six new patients a week, a fairly low number, he said.
“During my two weeks at LRMC, I primarily assisted the general surgeons with nonvascular trauma care,” he said. “It’s a genuine privilege to be able to assist these soldiers in any way possible. The vascular surgery volunteer program at LRMC means that our particular expertise is always available to them during their transit back to the U.S.”
Once back in the United States, the soldiers go to military hospitals for continued treatment and rehabilitation.
Geraghty recalled treating one patient who had severe trauma to his legs that required multiple surgical debridements, or removal of damaged tissue. The patient already had undergone amputation of one arm and had sustained a traumatic brain injury.
“The acute care for these soldiers is excellent,” he said. “The unanswered question is what happens in the longer term. Even after this conflict reaches a conclusion, our society needs to provide funding for ongoing care. These are very badly injured soldiers, with injuries sustained doing the job their country asked of them, who will need assistance to get through life.”
The U.S. Department of Defense reports about 5,000 U.S. casualties from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to date, with an estimated 33,500 wounded.
Geraghty praised the response of the military physicians as well as the hospital’s staff for their care of wounded soldiers and gained additional respect for military families.
“My two weeks there was a blip compared to the extended tours these guys serve,” he said.
“My wife and kids got sick the day after I left, and I was frustrated at being unable to help out at home. It gave me a very brief window onto the challenges that separation places on soldiers and their families,” he said.