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- Published: Sunday, 07 March 2010 12:45
- Written by Peter Almond
By Peter Almond
Last updated at 2:29 AM on 07th March 2010
It was one of the most complex military logistical and medical operations ever undertaken – and it saved the life of a young British soldier critically injured in Afghanistan.
It involved hundreds of doctors, air and ground crews of several nations, travelling many thousands of miles, revolutionary and experimental medical equipment, several planes and helicopters and communications between three continents and cost millions of pounds.
For months, details of the massive operation to save one man’s life have been shrouded in secrecy. The injured soldier was not shot by the Taliban but was almost certainly wounded accidentally at his camp near Sangin in Helmand province in late July last year.
It is understood that Soldier X – he is not being identified at the request of his family – was not wearing body armour at the time. The Ministry of Defence has declined to offer any explanation.
The respected American journalist Michael Yon, himself a former US special forces soldier, reported on his blog that he heard the shot and saw a flurry of activity and a medical evacuation helicopter taking Soldier X away.
Then began a most incredible effort to save his life.
Soldier X had been shot in the abdomen and chest, losing his right lung and damaging his liver, according to the US military Stars And Stripes newspaper. Another American military report said his blood supply was replaced more than ten times, and that he was transfused with 75 units of blood and another 75 units of platelets.
He was alive – but only just. He needed specialist equipment to do what his lungs could not: provide oxygen to his blood and remove the carbon dioxide built up in its passage through his body. He needed an artificial lung and intensive care within hours. Such equipment was available at hospitals in Britain, nearly 4,000 miles away, but Soldier X would almost certainly die on the long flight.
He needed a portable, low-pressure artificial lung and the Americans offered to help. But the bureaucracy of moving from the British to the American military system meant that valuable time was being lost.
Contacted by a quick-thinking British doctor at Camp Bastion, Mr Yon sent an urgent email to a group of American civilian volunteers called Soldiers’ Angels near Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where most American casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan are initially sent.
The volunteers, founded by the great-niece of General George S. Patton, alerted the US Army’s nearby Landstuhl Regional Medical Center’s Acute Lung Rescue Team, which specialises in going straight to the aid of soldiers with severe lung problems.
And within an hour, the team was in touch with doctors at the nearby University of Regensberg who had access to a revolutionary portable artificial lung called a Novalung. The still experimental German-made machine takes over much of the job of circulating blood, filling it with oxygen and filtering out the carbon dioxide without the use of the mechanical pumps in the older Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machines, which have been known to cause damage to a patient by forcing the blood around the body.
Novalung is powered by the patient’s own heartbeat at a lower pressure, and has been used by the Landstuhl team several times, even though it has yet to be formally accepted into general use by either Germany or Britain.
It had never been used on a patient in transit, however. Soldier X would be the first to use it on his flight back to Germany.
With time running out, and Soldier X needing specialist attention immediately, a call was made from Camp Bastion to the US-led Combined Air and Space Operations Center at al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, where all military aircraft movements in and around Afghanistan are controlled.
Within minutes, the Joint Patient Movement Requirements Centre there identified a US C-130 Hercules at Kabul that could fly pulmonary specialists immediately to Camp Bastion.
At the same time, the 618th Tanker Airlift Control Centre at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois was alerted to co-ordinate the move of the Landstuhl team with the Novalung from Germany to Camp Bastion and back.
‘We received the call on our operations floor to airlift the British soldier from Afghanistan to Germany and immediately did what we could to make it happen,’ said Colonel John Martins, the 618th TACC director of operations, who led co-ordination efforts for the mission.
‘It was a complex move. Not only did we have to find a plane and aircrew to fly the patient out of Sangin, but also we had to find another plane and crew to get the right medical personnel and equipment into Afghanistan because we needed specialised medical teams to care for the patient in-flight.’
At Ramstein, a giant US C-17 Globemaster loaded with cargo for Iraq was quickly reassigned to take the Novalung team to Afghanistan and within six hours it was airborne and on its way, via a stop for more medical equipment at Bagram, Kabul.
Once on the ground at Camp Bastion, however, the aircrew found that the six hours it would take to prepare Soldier X for the flight back meant they would run out of permissible flying hours. Another aircrew would be needed while they flew back to Germany with several more wounded soldiers.
A second C-17 was urgently reassigned at Camp Bastion, while the Novalung was carefully connected to the blood vessels of Soldier X’s legs.
Eight hours later, and within 22 hours of receiving the call for help, the US Air Force had moved Soldier X from a combat zone on one continent to the medical safety of another.
At Ramstein, the Germans took over Soldier X’s care. A civilian Lifebird medevac helicopter was on hand to fly him to Regensberg for more operations.
Some time later, Soldier X was flown back to specialist care in England and is believed to be continuing his recovery.
The only official response from the MoD about the case has come in a statement from Surgeon Rear Admiral Lionel Jarvis, assistant chief of defence staff (health), which said: ‘The current Coalition operation in Afghanistan allows flexibility in the selection of the best casualty transfer system available at the time.
‘The US evacuation of a UK casualty to Germany exemplified the success of this arrangement, and the professional skills of the Coalition medical teams, resulting in a highly successful outcome.’
The only reported comment from Soldier X’s family comes from MaryAnn Phillips, of Soldiers’ Angels at Ramstein. In a message to Michael Yon on his website, she said she had met the young soldier’s mother at Regensberg Hospital, where he had regained consciousness and was improving.
‘She had no idea of the extraordinary lengths hundreds of people had gone to save him.
‘I told her about some of this,’ MaryAnn wrote to Yon. ‘She broke down and couldn’t believe “all of those people would do all that for my son”. It was a very, very moving moment.’
Michael Yon Important correction from Soldiers' Angels RE "Soldier X":
Michael Yon contacted Soldiers' Angels to improve communications about Soldier X’s status after he was moved from British to US and German medical care. Soldiers' Angels did not directly contact the Acute Lung Rescue Team. Soldiers' Angels role is to support soldiers and soldiers' families, not to initiate or intervene in medical care. 100% of the credit goes to the coalition military medical teams, who pulled together across the world to save a human life - no matter what nationality. They would have done it for anyone. That is the spirit of the original story, "The needs of the one":
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This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoNot one of our (and all are 'our') soldiers is expendable. They are, each and every one, deserving of the best support that can be had. Money can be replaced, our men and women cannot.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoAgain thank you and keep up the great reports. May people reading this continue or start to support your work.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoNice work Michael. Without your involvement, the solider surely would have died. When you are done with all of your travels, you will look back on your life and know you truly made a difference. That's what is important.
To all the hundreds of participants who helped make this happen. Thank you.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoThis soldier would likely have died without the Michael Yon-Soldiers' Angels connection.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoWith a son in Afghanistan, and another most likely heading that way in a year, I am encouraged to know that the medical teams will move heaven and earth to take care of our wounded. And I agree, they are all "our soldiers".
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoWow, just wow. Thank you Michael for your help in saving this soldier. God Bless you and the others involved. Brought tears to my eyes.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoMichael - This is the way it is. I was in for 20 years. I was stationed in Germany and spent much time in the UK. The United States, the UK and Germany all working as a cohesive team to save a life does not surprise me although I find amazing the lengths to which they went to make it so for this soldier. Please note that I did not say unusual, I said amazing. My experience with soldiers, airman and civilians from each of these countries can't explain how it happened but it indisputably explains the professionalism that accounts for why it happened.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoWhat a truly amazing story and example of great human courage, determination and ultimate teamwork. These are the stories that need to be in our headlines for all to remember what we do when called to serve... Michael, your writing is truly humbling and inspiring, and your network of connections and passion for the living is lifesaving... thank you for all you do! I am humbled beyond belief this morning...
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoBut what if his insurance company denies this coverage?
Lotta taxpayer $$ spent on this one guy - of course I'll get nuked here, but this is an insane use of resources.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoA testimonial to the goodness and competence of a lot of people collaborating with astonishing efficiency. It takes a lot to build this capacity of heart, mind, and equipment. We call it civilization.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoExcellent example of why we are fighting. Our enemies in this battle indiscriminately kill our troops, civilians, women and children, in addition to having no value on their own lives when sending suicide bombers out to do their bidding. In stark contrast, we rightly move heaven and earth to save one of our own. It brought me to tears too. I am proud of what freedom compels us to do, and immeasurably proud of those who are doing it on our behalf. Stay the course.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years ago@whish I was covered... when were you in a hospital and no one treated you? You are spouting lies from the pit in which you have planted yourself. This soldier was treated fighting for your right to spout such lies. No one admitted to a hospital of this country is denied treatment. Unlike England that tells cancer patients, Too bad, treatment too expensive!
Go back to your pit or climb out and learn to rejoice in life.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoEnlist, and go to a combat zone. You'll be covered. Soldiers in the military are not to be considered equivalent to working stiffs (or unemployed schlubs) here at home. Better yet, stay at home and whine some more, you'd lower the effectiveness of whatever unit you were in with your bad attitude.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoThanks for highlighting this amazing, but as others have pointed out, not unique story - coverage of the military very often focuses only on how life is taken - very few reveal to what lengths our dedicated men and women in uniform are willing to go to to save it. This is a classic example of that dedication.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoWow. Just sad.
You ARE "covered". You're "covered" by those men and women who make the sacrafices that let you freely hate your betters.
"Waste of resourses"? You are a waste of oxygen.
May you sleep well.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoKnowing how hard everyone involved in this worked to save this young man, makes me feel a little better about my son's coming tour.
Thank you Michael, and thank you to every man and woman involved.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoClowns like you on the left are what is wrong with the world, and the world is waking up to that type of entitlement thinking. Let's hope when you need any type of care, whether it's "Obribe-acare" or other health care, you receive at least the minimum, and that it includes a consideration for a lobotomy.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoIt's amazing what modern medicine can do. I didn't even know we had such artificial lungs! Bless that soldier and the folks who worked to save his life.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoWell done, Michael! I'm happy this turned out so well. What an impressive operation.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoI was/am a US Marine a long time ago...the one thing I knew in the USMC, is that whether someone liked/hated me was immaterial, I always knew that when the chips were down, there would always be someone out there who would come get me...or that I would do exactly the same, because you never, ever leave someone behind. It's what we do...
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoThings like this are the backbone of the modern western world. We all pitch in to get through crisis together. We sacrifice blood and treasure for the least of us in the name of the greater good.
As for enemies, under their definition of humanity, hundreds of operatives slink about all over the world looking for places to murder and maim innocents. People need to get real clear about the world in which we live. For most people living in the west, there is an al Qaida barbarian within an hour drive of where you live.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years ago...
But what if his insurance company denies this coverage?
Lotta taxpayer $$ spent on this one guy - of course I'll get nuked here, but this is an insane use of resources.
Wish I was covered , March 07, 2010
I read your comment, and it's like Alice in Wonderland on the other side of the looking glass. You and your ilk complain about non existent problems, like no coverage. Well, in the US no coverage does not mean no care, in fact, sometimes the care is better than for those who pay or have coverage. Your other point, "...insane use of resources." you just assigned a monetary value to human life, and to you, it is cheap. You, your ilk, Obama, and everyone who agrees with you will NEVER usurp our health care finance and delivery system here in the US, because we know that you think like this, and that for you all, human life is cheap. Unless of course, it is your own.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoI truly feel sorry for you, your ignorance about private insurance and it's connection to the military only proves you are SO! uneducated in this area. Your lack of knowledge in this one area is an insight to the rest of your knowledge (or lack thereof).
As far as a your comment on tax dollars being spent and "an insane use of resources": I'd be willing to bet that if it was you laying there, these same complaints would not be heard from yourself!
Also, if it was you laying there and you still felt the same as you do now, these men and women would still have risked their lives saving you all the while respecting your right to express yourself.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoMonetary values are assigned to lives all the time. It's ridiculous to think otherwise. And even MORE ridiculous to think the military doesn't do it in spades.
This is a great story, and hooks right into the idea that every life is precious. But we simply cannot afford to do things like this for everyone. Probably shouldn't have for just the one - but it's great this soldier is alive today.
These responses of never being denied care sound like George Bush saying "You can just go to an emergency room."
I'm sorry to have a dissenting but respectful view. It is a valid one, however. Especially given the state of stateside care for our veterans.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoThank you Michael and to everyone who helped save one of our soldiers. Words are not enough. Bless you all.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoGreat to see such a joint effort conclude with a great result.
Soldiers Angels are truly Soldiers Angerls
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoMichael Yon is one of the finest men America ever produced. The world is a better place because of him. A big thumbs-up to him for all he does.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoMicahel, we really need your embed with British Forces soon if the is article is true. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/onthefrontline/7393809/Army-faces-Afghan-gag-for-election.html
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoMichael Yon contacted Soldiers' Angels to improve communications about Soldier X's status after he was moved from British to US and German medical care. Soldiers' Angels did not directly contact the Acute Lung Rescue Team. Soldiers' Angels role is to support soldiers and soldiers' families, not to initiate or intervene in medical care.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoAnd some folks wonder why Marines and other grunts LOVE our 'docs' As for the people involved in this mission...OUTSTANDING.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoMichael Yon contacted Soldiers' Angels to improve communications about Soldier X’s status after he was moved from British to US and German medical care. Soldiers' Angels did not directly contact the Acute Lung Rescue Team. Soldiers' Angels role is to support soldiers and soldiers' families, not to initiate or intervene in medical care. 100% of the credit goes to the coalition military medical teams, who pulled together across the world to save a human life - no matter what nationality. They would have done it for anyone. That is the spirit of the original story, "The needs of the one":
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoThanks to Michael, the coalition and all those who serve over here and abroad. It's their passion, excellence in service and putting service before self that make all of our nations within the NATO umbrella a great place to be. I've served in the US Air Force for over 13 years, been part of a Joint program for two years, and now am fortunate to work alongside professionals from all around the world, here in Afghanistan. As Michael points out, all are here to serve and put service before self.
To those who throw health care into this, do you have no shame? I'm 99% certain you've never seen a bullet fired in anger, nor served your country. Every life brought to harm for the service of their country, or in this case, the service of 42 countries (26 members of NATO and the others serving alongside), is worth doing the most that ALL of those 42 countries are capable of doing. Morale is a key component to an effective fighting force, and part of that morale is knowing no man is left behind, and no one is going to be just left to die. Period. End of f'en story.
When I inprocessed ISAF HQ, I met the man who will be in charge of the team that will come to get me if I'm captured or end up missing. Rest assured, in neither his mind or mine did we discuss costs.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoMichael-
As Rich pointed out, the ability of a unit to be completely combat effective rests in part on the belief of the soldiers in that unit that if they get in trouble, someone is going to be there to back them up. This is inherent in the American military, although most of the glory goest to the trigger pullers. All servicemembers contribute, and it is great to see credit be given to those behind the lines. I am also quite impressed at the technology that exists to move heaven and earth to save this man; I am sure the same goes on for all our troops, and few of those involved would say they did anything heroic. Most heroes act that way. Compare and contrast to the manufactured heroes the media hypes up so that John Q Public goes gaga buying papers (or watching the boob tube)-- millionaire golfers who have no morals, a has-been singer and child molester who offs himself because he is rich and stupid enough to think he need anesthesia to sleep, ball players who have money and brawn, but no brains to match...
And for "Wish I Was Covered", the reality is that EVERY HOSPITAL IN THE UNITED STATES HAS TO TREAT PEOPLE WHO ARE SICK OR INJURED, WHETHER YOU CAN PAY OR NOT. It is the law! iF YOU DON'T OR CANNOT PAY, THE HOSPITAL SHIFTS THE COST OF YOUR CARE ONTO THOSE WHO DO PAY. That is why hospitals are trying to charge $8 for an aspirin. It is also why there isn't a single hospital in California not operating in bankruptcy. Illegals and others without insurance are using their emergency rooms like a Primary Care Center. It isn't about insurance, it is about getting EVERYONE to pay their own way, and getting rid of every BS thing that stands between the Healthcare worker and their mission. You see here how that can work.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoTalked with him tonight from DALLAS TX, He is alive..well, and happy, he was in the initial fight going into Bagad, and did three tours.
He is out now, and building a business with another warrior he served with and new for ten yrs in the Marines.
I heard today,,the IRAQ people again turned out in great numbers at great risk as usual ,but there was not the level it could have been.
When he is older..I REMINDED him...he helped free 25 million people, an may have established another good version of our country right in the middle of the middle east.
He can tell that story with pride to his grandkids, as I'm swelling with telling you,Michael Yon, right now.
Thank you for telling all of their stories.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoYA MADE ERNIE PYLE SHED A TEAR WITH HIS PRIDE IN WHAT YOU HAVE DONE THIS TIME. KEEP IT UP! ALLONS! GUNNER
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoThanks for covering this story, the system in play here rivals any system in the world. The level of care and expertise gained in this environment is unprecidented and cannot be valued. Im glad to see someone shedding light on this.... think for a second about getting blown up in your hometown with these types of injuries, you probably wouldn't even make it to the local hospital nor would they have the resources on hand. The military however can take the most extreme cases and move them anywhere on the globe within about days regardless of severity.
Thanks again for covering this...
TSgt Matt Blonde
(Critical Care Air Evac RT)
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoThis story is just great!! It takes many types of heros, and this story showed them all. From Aircrew, medical & logistic personnel, the University team who invented this wonderful device, the front line soldiers who gave first-aid to their mate, and the soldier himself. All of them never gave up, never quit.
Mister Yon, again THANK YOU for reporting the REAL war, and all the Heros who serve in it.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years ago"Monetary values are assigned to lives all the time. It's ridiculous to think otherwise."
That's absolutely correct, and appropriate. What you may not understand is that the life of a man who stands between America and her enemies...even (especially?) the soldier of an allied nation...is worth significantly more than that of a social parasite.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoAmazing to see the lengths that everyone went to for this guy. As a Brit I want to say thanks to Michael and all the US forces involved in his care. Truly appreciated and not forgotten.
@Cindy Thurman - you said "Unlike England that tells cancer patients, Too bad, treatment too expensive!".
I realise that with the recent healthcare debates in the US there has been a lot of mis-information put out in the US-media, but I can tell you, in the UK this definitely doesn't happen. The National Health service in the UK certainly isn't perfect, but they are pretty good.
@whish I was covered... when were you in a hospital and no one treated you? You are spouting lies from the pit in which you have planted yourself. This soldier was treated fighting for your right to spout such lies. No one admitted to a hospital of this country is denied treatment. Unlike England that tells cancer patients, Too bad, treatment too expensive!
Go back to your pit or climb out and learn to rejoice in life.
, March 07, 2010
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoYer a lovely man Michael Yon. Wing tip to wingtip them Soldiers Angels are gorgeous and I can see a bulk canonisation coming up........in the distant future I hasten to add. First there was Florence Nightingale then there was Soldiers Angels. Warms the cockles of the heart.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoWhy didn't Katie Couric report on this, because it had a good ending??? Thank you Michael.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoThe story gives me chills and makes me so proud to be a member of Soldiers Angels.
Still digesting it. TSgt Blonde hit the nail on the head - that sort of injury at home would probably result in death. Just another example of the quiet, dignified, immensely talented work done by devoted service members of all nations to heal the wounded 24/7/365.
These are the heroes our children should hope to emulate.
Michael Yon is a treasure without measure
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoThank you to all who saved this young man's life and thank you Michael for bringing us such wonderfull stories of what great and honorable people we are blessed with.GOD BLESS AND STAY SAFE.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoIm proud to be a SoldiersAngel because my efforts are for things of more value than whats irreplaceable. The laws of mankind have been so twisted its revolting. My heart goes out to everyone whos worked so hard, as a team in so many ways to conqueror the impossible. God Bless All who have given All and those who have given Some.Some being everything youve got! Bless Our Troops and bring them home safe, much thanks to everyone whos on this same tour with the same motivation keep the good work up!!!
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoThis story was posted March 7, 2010. It's been almost three months now. Any update on Soldier X's condition? Prognosis? I'm sure many of us would like to know how he and his family are doing. Great story and great effort!
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoSolider x is you and I ,desperately uncovered and ill prepared for life struggles, and prayer is what god does to rescue our bleeding hearts.He moves heaven and hell for the simple cry of one prayer. I'M late getting a hold of this story, but it will preach tomorrow morning. [psalm 18:1-19]
vs9 "He bowed the heavens also and came down......."
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoThank you Michael for sharing this with us. very moving, very touchy!!!!
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoGreat story Michael, thanks for all your help and for all the great stories. May god continue to bless you and all our men and women serving this great Nation. This story speaks volumes of the courage and heart of the men and women in the armed forces serving our Country. Blessing to all and their families. I pray that this young man recovers fully and my thoughts are with him and his family.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoThank YOU 4 this Information! Thanks to you and all your FELLOW SERVICE PERSONS!
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoDear Mike,
Superb work by the medical teams - your and ours. With a son in Afghanistan let me express my profound thanks to the Americans for getting it in gear and moving heaven and earth for the wounded British soldier. I just hope that at some future date our gratitude can match your generosity. Well done soldier's angels - Florence Nightingale is up there weeping buckets watching you do so well.