Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wounded in Afghanistan

I've learned more about my State Department friend who was wounded in Afghanistan on Saturday, in the same blast that killed Anne Smedinghoff (a State Department public affairs officer), a DoD civilian (whose name hasn't been released yet), and three soldiers.  My friend, Kelly, suffered massive damage to her skull along with shrapnel embedded all over her body.  She was medevac'd to Landstuhl hospital in Germany, where she is now in a medically-induced coma.  Parts of her skull have been removed due to swelling of the brain.  In other words, she is in bad shape.  Fortunately, she's in Landstuhl, where she's getting the best care available anywhere.

I didn't know Kelly that well, but had worked with her during the last few months of my time in Afghanistan.  She is the one who started the ball rolling on publicity for my "Faces of Afghanistan" drawings that eventually led to the exhibition at UNC Asheville.  Kelly is a dynamo, standing barely over 5 feet tall, with a quick smile, quick wit, and intense dedication to her job.  She is also, I think, tougher than she believes she is.  Which is a good thing, because her toughness will be sorely tested for a long time to come.

ABC News reporter Bob Woodruff suffered similar injuries in 2006 in Iraq.  Like Kelly, he was in a medically-induced coma for 36 days at Landstuhl, then spent several weeks at Bethesda, and was finally to a facility closer to home.  He was back on the air a year after the incident, although it was clear that he wasn't quite back to normal.  I am hoping that Kelly is able to follow a similar recuperation.  Like many other traumatic brain injury victims, she will probably suffer some effects for the rest of her life.  But at least she'll be alive.

Let's not forget the others who died in the blast: Staff Sergeant Christopher Ward, 24, of Oak Ridge, TN; Specialist Wilbel Robles-Santa, 25, of Juncos, Puerto Rico; and Specialist Deflin M. Santos, 24, of San Jose, CA.  They died trying to protect the team.

Many people seem to forget that Afghanistan is still a violent place.  Having a friend get hurt so seriously is a stark reminder that it's still going on.

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