Monday, December 13, 2004

Amputation rate for US troops twice that of past wars

From the Boston Globe:
Doctors cite need for prosthetics as more lives saved
     US troops injured in Iraq have required limb amputations at twice the rate of past wars, and as many as 20 percent have suffered head and neck injuries that may require a lifetime of care, according to new data giving the clearest picture yet of the severity of battlefield wounds.

     The data are the grisly flip side of improvements in battlefield medicine that have saved many combatants who would have died in the past: Only 1 in 10 US troops injured in Iraq has died, the lowest rate of any war in US history.

     But those who survive have much more grievous wounds. Bulletproof Kevlar vests protect soldiers' bodies but not their limbs, as insurgent snipers and makeshift bombs tear off arms and legs and rip into faces and necks. More than half of those injured sustain wounds so serious they cannot return to duty, according to Pentagon statistics.

     Much attention has focused on the 1,000-plus soldiers killed in Iraq, but the Pentagon has released little information on the 9,765 soldiers injured as of this week.

     "The death rate isn't great compared to Vietnam, Korea, and World War II. But these soldiers are coming back to their communities and people are seeing just how high the price is that these young people are paying," said Dr. G. Richard Holt, a head and neck surgeon at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and a retired US Army surgeon who served as a civilian adviser in Iraq earlier this year.

     Responding to the large number of amputations, scientists at Brown University in Providence and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology yesterday announced a $7.2 million research program to design more functional prosthetic limbs. The US Department of Veterans Affairs is paying for the work.

     Data compiled by the US Senate, and included in the 2005 defense appropriations bill in support of a request for increased funding for the care of amputees at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, reveal that 6 percent of those wounded in Iraq have required amputations, compared with a rate of 3 percent for past wars.

     According to Brown Medical School's Dr. Roy Aaron, the current VA medical system "literally cannot handle the load" of amputees.

     Aaron is heading up the Brown-MIT effort, which will also include the Providence VA Medical Center.
"Amputee research has never been a high priority because it's not . . . fashionable," said Aaron. "Iraq has changed that."

Complete Article here
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