Wounded warrior shares trauma, gets specialized care (Fort McPherson)
September 16, 2008
The Army's unwavering commitment and a key element of warrior ethos is that "I will never leave a fallen comrade" on the battlefield.
That longstanding Army credo has spread to the civilian community as it becomes more involved in providing specialized care, beyond what the military offers, for wounded warriors. A recipient of this specialized care is a recovering Fort Jackson, S.C., Soldier: Staff Sgt. Raymond D. Long.
Long recently completed four weeks of speech, occupational, recreation and physical therapy at the Shepherd Center.
The Shepherd Center in Atlanta is a private, not-for-profit hospital devoted to the medical care and rehabilitation of people with spinal cord injury and disease, brain injury, multiple sclerosis and other neuromuscular problems.
Long was a heavy construction equipment operator assigned to Co. A, 84th Engineers, at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, when he deployed to Iraq the first time. When a mortar round struck in his vicinity, June 16, 2004, Long sustained a Class 3 liver laceration and a traumatic brain injury (TBI). The explosion killed six Soldiers, including those on his left and right flank, and injured 25.
The wounded warrior pulled through emergency surgery in theater and was medically evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he spent five days in the intensive care unit before returning stateside for treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (AMC) in Washington, D.C. Within a few weeks, Long was able to take convalescent leave and return to Hawaii's Tripler AMC for outpatient treatment. Less than a year later, Long returned to Iraq for a second tour of duty. On his return stateside and transfer to Fort Jackson, still feeling the affects of his brain injury, Long sought help at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Augusta and was later invited to Shepherd for ex-tended treatment.
"It (the VA) was a good starting place, but they were reluctant to say that I did sustain a TBI. They also suggested [the injury] was mostly posttraumatic stress disorder related," Long explained.
Shepherd Center's staff treats patients who have experienced the most complex brain injuries, according to its Web site. They have treated thousands of people with brain injuries, and 95 percent of the patients returned to the community at a higher level of mental functioning than when they started rehab, the site states.
"Service at the Shepherd Center is great," Long said. "They are huge advocates for successful treatment and conduct clinical studies on how blasts affect Soldiers and the effects of therapies. It's a positive environment with dedicated therapists for individual patients. They had an action plan, knew what was needed and kept my schedule full of therapeutic activities from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m."
The Shepherd Center, located at 2020 Peachtree Road in Buckhead, employs more than 1,000 employees at the 120-bed facility, which includes a 10-bed intensive care unit and a 30-bed acquired brain injury unit.
Meaghan, Long's wife of 14 years, has also played an intricate role in his recovery.
"He says I have always been his support system." Meaghan explained. "I didn't need to do much; the Shepherd Center [staff] took care of everything in a loving and caring gesture."
Meaghan, who is studying nursing, has been inspired by the medical support servicemembers receive and aspires to join the Army Nurse Corps.
"I just found out that my school has a bridge program with the University of South Carolina and offers ROTC for nursing students," she said. She attends Midlands Technical College in Columbia, S.C., where she serves as an ambassador for the school.
"I have a profound love for wounded Soldiers and their Families," Meaghan explained. "I know I'm only one person, but I would hope that [as a health professional] I could help people understand what our Soldiers and Families need."
It may be ironic that Long would need rescuing, since he is a technical rescuer - one who conducts urban search and rescue involving the location, extrication and initial medical stabilization of victims trapped in confined spaces.
Long, a Columbus, Ohio, native, joined the Army reserves after graduating from high school in 1989. He transferred to active duty in 1996 and served at Headquarters Support Company, 92nd Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy), at Fort Stewart before relocating to Fort Belvoir, Va., in 1999. Assigned to the 911th Engineer Company (Technical Rescue) - formerly the Military District of Washington Engineer Company - he trained as an emergency medical technician. The 911th is the only combat engineering company in the Army that specializes in Urban Search and Rescue, and Long deployed to the Pentagon in Washing-ton, D.C., to serve after the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001.
Long's message to others who may be experiencing similar symptoms of TBI is not to give up. "Keep fighting each day. I have an awesome advocate in my wife. She fights for me to get the treatment I need and she told me I had to do it also - pick myself up. It made healing easier."
Long processed through the medical reclassification board in August and is awaiting the results. Meanwhile, the non-deployable squad leader will return to duty, he said. "I'm just waiting to see what job I will be able to do now."