As the first destination in the continental United States for individuals who are wounded, ill and injured in global conflicts, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC), in Bethesda, Md., cares for the nation’s most seriously injured service members. Walking the halls there, especially for the first time, can be a shocking experience for many people. Certainly there were times, in my two years of recruiting patients for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) research studies at WRNMMC, when I saw things I had never imagined and faced situations that brought me to tears. But, it was also the place that I encountered some of the most courageous men and women I have ever had the honor to meet and witnessed incredible recoveries, which continue to be a daily source of inspiration. It is the first of these incredible recoveries that I would like to share.
When I met Dave (name and personal details changed to protect privacy) he was an inpatient on the Wounded Warrior floor at WRNMMC. He had been seriously injured two weeks prior in an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) blast while deployed to Afghanistan. In the explosion, Dave had lost part of his right leg, lost two of his fingers and suffered a mild TBI. After being stabilized, he had been transferred from the hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, to WRNMMC and, on the day we met, was awaiting yet another surgery, one of the many he would need to help repair what was left of his leg.
Upon arriving at his hospital room, I peered in and saw him lying in bed. He was skinny, frail, pale and bald. He looked decades older than the 21 year-old man I had expected to see. At the time, having only worked at WRNMMC for a few weeks, I was somewhat nervous about entering a patient’s hospital room. However, when I knocked on the door, Dave graciously welcomed me with a big smile and invited me into his room. When I told him about our research study he quickly agreed to participate, despite the time and effort it would require. I remember being surprised at how eager he was to participate in our study, especially given what he had just been through and the great challenges he still faced. But Dave, like many of the service members I would come to meet, told me that he was happy to help, that he would do anything he could to help improve care for future service members.
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