Martin C. Evans

Archive for December, 2010|Monthly archive page

For Medical Personnel in Wartime, no Christmas Break

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2010 at 11:18 am

Landstuhl, GERMANY – America’s two armed conflicts in the Persian Gulf region have not provided a Christmas break for America’s military. Certainly not in Afghanistan’s bloody Helmand province, where at least five Marines alone were killed in the ten days leading to Christmas. And certainly not here, at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where Airman 1st Class Wilfredo Ortiz was among soldiers from Long Island who spent the holiday season trying to save the lives of war wounded GIs.

Wilfredo Ortiz, 20. The Landstuhl trauma center performs more than 30 surgeries per day, including amputations for GIs wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan

Ortiz, a 20-year-old soldier from Valley Stream, works as a weekend shift leader for surgical technicians at this trauma facility, the U.S. military’s primary medical center for troops wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Treating war casualties

The 149-bed facility 100 miles southwest of Frankfurt, Germany – the largest American hospital outside the United States – became a trauma center in 2004 to care for the growing number of war-related injuries. Since then, medical personnel have treated more than 13,000 combat casualties, including scores from Long Island.

Among them was Army Cpl. Christopher Levi, a former 10th Mountain Division soldier from Holbrook who lost his legs when a roadside bomb exploded in Afghanistan in March of 2008.

As a surgical technician, Ortiz prepares the operating room. He sets out surgical tools, helps position patients on the operating table and assists surgeons as they work.

“It won’t ruin my Christmas, because it’s my job and I love my job. But you never really want to see this,” Ortiz said last week as two soldiers rushed from Afghanistan were prepared for emergency surgery in adjacent operating rooms.

“Sometimes they still have mud in their wounds,” Ortiz said. “You’ll see rocks, you’ll see shrapnel, wood, pretty much anything that flies.”

In an operating room to Ortiz’s left, doctors had begun working on a soldier who had lost limbs but survived an explosion. Officials here say the number of those types of injuries has spiked with the increase in foot patrols that have accompanied the surge of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Flaps of skin and muscle hung from the soldier’s right leg, which had been shorn off about 6 inches above the knee.

He also had lost the lower part of his left leg, where jagged bone protruded from wounded flesh. His left arm and hand had also been seriously injured. Hundreds of particles from the blast, each potentially infectious, riddled his flesh.

The soldier in the operating room to Ortiz’s right looked almost serene, like a man who had fallen asleep. A medical staffer pulled the man’s jaw open and wiggled a breathing tube into his throat. Another tube had been inserted through his side to carry away waste from his injured lower intestine.

Like the soldier in the adjoining operating room, both of his legs had also been shorn off in this, the 10th holiday season U.S. troops have been fighting in Afghanistan.

Volunteering for duty

“Christmas is a family holiday, so I volunteered to work Christmas,” said Ortiz, who is part of a 3,000-member hospital staff that, according to Landstuhl officials, averages 32 surgeries a day. “But I didn’t volunteer for New Year’s. New Year’s is a single man’s holiday.”

Ortiz’s enlistment ends March 3, 2015, the day he turns 25. He said he intends to move to New York City.

Specialist Russell Kaiser Jr., 30, an Army medic, also is spending part of the holiday season on duty at Landstuhl.

Had he been home, the Brooklyn native said, he would have gathered with family – including an uncle from Rockville Centre – at the Staten Island home of an aunt.

“It’s really hard being away from family,” said Kaiser, who is single. “You get used to family traditions you don’t even know you miss until you’re not home to take part in them.”

Someone’s child

Petty Officer Gloriela Robinson, 59, a Navy reservist from Levittown who works as a nurse at Landstuhl, planned to spend Christmas visiting patients as a USO volunteer.

Robinson, who when not on active duty is a licensed practical nurse at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said the mostly routine care provided at Northport did not prepare her for the horrific nature of blast wounds and other war trauma.

“You know about the war, but it really doesn’t touch you until you’re here,” Robinson, 59, said as she wept.

“The amputees really get me. I feel for them because I could be their mother. What’s going to happen to them once they go home?”

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Friend of needy vets, Shoreham’s Stephen Clark dies of cancer

In Uncategorized on December 10, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Stephen Clark, pictured in Kuwait in 2006, said his job there processing trucks destroyed on Iraq battlefields convinced him that some US troops would need help adjusting to civilian life.

Despite a fast-spreading cancer that had riddled his body with agonizing tumors, Stephen Clark, the Shoreham founder of a veteran’s charity, wanted to lend his support that October night.

Having learned that a soldier was coming home from a jail sentence many considered unjust, the founder of 9-1-1 Veterans struggled out of a sick bed to join the crowd of well-wishers who greeted the soldier at a Rocky Point veterans hall.

“We have a duty to let veterans know that no matter what, they are not alone,” Clark told Newsday at the veterans hall Oct. 29.

Clark, 54, a Suffolk police firearms instructor who spent the last three years of his life helping veterans regain control over their lives, died shortly before noon Wednesday at a Port Jefferson hospice. His wife Terry was by his side.

Since its founding 2007, Clark’s  organization has distributed more than $200,000 to veterans in need of help with rent and mortgage payments, car repairs, utility bills and other challenges, according to Chris Delaney, who took over much of the charity’s workings as Clark’s health declined. 9-1-1 Veterans doled  $18,000 in aid last month, Delaney said.

Clark, who started the charity by passing a bucket among his colleagues  at the Suffolk Police Academy, eventually built a network of individuals and organizations who were willing to collect money and refer needy vets. Last June, MacArthur Airport raised more than $30,000 for 9-1-1 Veterans by staging a charity run on the airport grounds.

One person who got help this year was Daryl Lewis, 42, a bus driver from Freeport and 20-year Army reservist who served in Baghdad in 2003.

Lewis said after an injury caused him to fall behind in his car payments and homeowners insurance earlier this year, a Department of Veterans Affairs social worker referred him to Clark, who provided cash to get him caught up.

“I’d been struggling for a year to catch up, but every time I’d come up for air, I’d sink again,” Lewis said. “That little push helped me so much.”

Clark often said his desire to help struggling veterans grew out of his appreciation for how his 33 years of military service helped him structure his life, and his belief that ex-GIs are unfairly left to fend for themselves once they are discharged from the military. He retired from the reserves this year with the rank of Command Master Chief.

“He told me this only once, that before he joined the Navy his life had gotten so low he was living out of his car,” said a sister-in-law, Irene Kamps, of Levittown. “He said the Navy saved his life.”

“Coming home and seeing guys he knew suffering, he was very upset that people were getting discharged and had to fend for themselves,” said Chris Delaney, who took over many of the charity’s workings this year as Clark’s health began to fail.

Clark, who immigrated from Bracknell, England when he was 13, joined the reserve in the 1970s. His wife had been a fellow reservist. He joined the Suffolk police force in 1987, and was named Officer of the Year in 1991 after pulling a victim from a burning vehicle. Last month, Suffolk Executive Steve Levy presented Clark with the first-ever “Key to the County.”

In addition to his wife, Clark’s survivors include his daughter Ashley and son John, his mother and stepfather, Sheila and Arthur Forster, of Beverly Hills, Fl, and brothers Nicholas and Rory, of Florida, Brian, of North Carolina and Stuart, of Long Island.

Viewings are scheduled for 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at O.B. Davis Funeral Home in Miller Place. Funeral at 10 a.m. Monday at Trinity Lutheran Church, in Rocky Point, followed by burial at Calverton National Cemetery.