Army medicine is more than saving lives
May 29, 2013
On a May day in 2007, one Soldier's life changed forever -- and nearly ended.
"I almost died, several times," said Col. Gregory Gadson, about the minutes and first few hours after his vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Iraq, causing severe injuries to both his legs and his right arm. "But now, six years later, I am flourishing, still on active duty and with a good quality of life expectation."
At that time, Gadson was serving as commander of the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery, in Iraq; today he serves as installation commander of Fort Belvoir, Va.
Gadson began his odyssey from the May 7 site of the roadside bombing in Balad, to a combat support hospital in Baghdad; from there he was flown to Landstuhl Military Medical Center in Germany, and finally on to Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) in Washington, D.C. Gadson says he doesn't remember much of the trip. "I went through 129 units of whole blood and plasma that first night," he said. "By May 11 I was in Walter Reed. I don't remember Landstuhl at all."
After arriving at WRAMC Gadson spent 44 days as an in-patient. He eventually lost both legs above the knee and today has reduced use of his right arm due to his upper right arm and elbow being broken.
"I've had 16 surgeries on my legs," Gadson said, "and four on my arm. I still have some nerve damage. I've talked to some people who think they can make it better. But, for now I don't plan on any more surgery."
Gadson said he relied on friends and family as his primary support group during his recovery. And the Army's support system for wounded warriors was there for him when he needed it.
Part of that support system included Col. (Dr.) Paul Pasquina, currently Chair, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Services at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Md. Pasquina and Gadson were teammates on the U.S. Military Academy football team at West Point, where Gadson was a line backer. During the early part of Gadson's hospitalization, Pasquina served as the chief of orthopedics and rehabilitation at WRAMC, and supervised much of his treatment.
"On many levels," said Pasquina. "Gadson is an example to all of us, for his hard work, determination, and resilience. We played football together. Then, I knew him as an invincible athlete. Now, he's inspiring to be around, and I feel privileged to care for him."
During the 15 months of recovery, Gadson said he focused more on occupational therapy because it helps patients relearn the skills needed for everyday life. Today, Gadson said he is more active than he was before his injuries.
"I am a better skier now," he said. "Before I didn't really ski, but now I do. Because of the prosthetics you have to do some things differently when you're skiing."
As well as being a skier, Gadson is a scuba diver; he is also into cycling, traveling and photography. He said hiking is the one activity he has given up.
While recovering, he signed up for a graduate education program. Today Gadson holds master's degrees in information systems from Webster University and policy management from Georgetown University.
"I'm just trying to continue to serve," Gadson said. "I've been promoted. And I was selected for a command position. I just make the most of every day."
Another of Gadson's friends from the West Point football team, Mike Sullivan, now works as an assistant coach for the New York Giants. Sullivan arranged for Gadson to attend a game. Tom Coughlin, the New York Giants head coach, asked Gadson to meet with the then-struggling team. Gadson talked to the players about service, teamwork, duty, perseverance and adversity. The team broke out of a losing streak and Gadson has served as their mentor ever since.
In April 2009 Gadson was the first bilateral amputee in the world to receive the second generation of the Ossur Power Knee prosthetic device. He is still working with researchers on modifications and improvements to the prosthetic.
"It's like bionic legs," Gadson said. "The power assist helps you walk. Unfortunately I don't have a pair to keep. I've tried to get them to give them to me."
A photo of Gadson appeared in a January 2010 story about robotics in National Geographic magazine. Pete Berg, one of the producers for the movie "Battleship" saw the photograph and got the idea to cast Gadson as an Army officer in the 2012 movie about aliens coming to Earth with hostile intent.
"It was a good experience," Gadson said, "but I think I'll wait until I retire before I do any more movies."
David Edelstein, chief film critic for New York Magazine, said, "U.S. Army Colonel Gregory D. Gadson -- former battalion leader who lost both legs in Iraq and has the no-b.s. charisma of Ving Rhames -- plays a double-amputee who stages a one-man assault on an alien-commandeered relay station. The smug, reptilian aliens don't have a prayer, assuming they even believe in God, which I bet you anything they don't."
Gadson has also been featured in Reader's Digest, Success, Home Life and Sports Illustrated magazine articles.
Gadson's first military assignment after recovering was as director of the Army Wounded Warrior Program. He took over the AW2 in 2010 and acted as director until June 19, 2012. AW2 assists and advocates for severely wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and veterans. AW2 supports these Soldiers and their families throughout their recovery and transition, even into veteran status.
Gadson took the reins as commander of Fort Belvoir, Va., in July 2012. With a population of 50,000 military, civilian and contract employees, Fort Belvoir provides logistical, intelligence, medical and administrative support for more than 140 different commands and agencies.
As a 24-year career Army officer, Gadson said he was familiar with the Army medical system before his injuries. However, spending time as a Wounded Warrior the last six years has made him realize the true capabilities of the system.
"I can honestly think of no other medical system in the world that can take such great care of some of the sickest folks there are. The thing that is significant about this generation of medical practitioners is that they are saving lives at an unprecedented rate. The military medical system not only saved my life," said Gadson, "but has allowed me to be all I can be. It's about more than saving lives -- it's giving lives back."
The military health care system is a dynamic organization, said Pasquina. "Military training programs are some of the best in the world. We provide unique training for military specific duties, and top notch education in medical specialties.
"We are all driven by a higher calling to serve in a very rewarding profession," Pasquina said. "I'm very proud of my Army service and my ability to provide care to the patient. A career in the military offers opportunities for professional growth and to work alongside other professions. There is a high degree of camaraderie that can't be overstated. It's very rare to find a military health care person who is motive by the salary; providing superior patient care is what drives us the most."
For more information on a career in Army Medicine, visit www.goarmy.com/amedd.