By Gino Mattorano, Regional Health Command EuropeDecember 16, 2015
When Military Working Dog Rocky and his handler were severely injured by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan recently, veterinary treatment teams from the Dog Center Europe were called into action to provide critical care to the wounded canine after both the wounded soldier and his dog were evacuated from theater.
While Rocky's handler was transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, for treatment of his injuries, Rocky was transported to the Dog Center Europe on a nearby installation for his surgical and medical care, utilizing a cross section of Army Medicine Europe capabilities.
Rocky and his handler, Army Spec. Andrew Brown, were deployed to Afghanistan, when they were called upon to help locate an improvised explosive device. Rocky had discovered the device and he and Brown were walking away when an explosion from what was believed to be a secondary IED injured them both.
Medics provided emergency care to Brown, and they were also able to stabilize Rocky and prepare them for aeromedical evacuation.
"We do regular training with operational forces to teach them basic veterinary emergency procedures and general anatomy of canines," said Army Maj. Scott Chamberlin, Dog Center Europe Director. "Rocky's injuries were very serious, so the first aid they provided him was crucial to his survival."
Rocky was triaged and received initial treatment for pain and injuries at the veterinary unit in Kandahar before being sent to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, where he was met by a joint team of veterinary staff from the Dog Center Europe and a military working dog liaison handler from Ramstein.
Dog Center Europe is part of Public Health Command Europe, which assures the effective execution of full-spectrum veterinary services for Army and DoD veterinary missions and promotes health and prevention of disease, injury, and disability for Soldiers in Europe.
"Rocky had a severely broken leg and extensive wounds to the back part of his body from the blast," Chamberlin said. "A broken leg is a very painful injury, so the first thing we did was focus on continued management of his pain."
Chamberlin, an emergency and critical care specialist veterinarian, and Army Maj. Lane Hansen, a veterinary surgeon and Deputy Director for Dog Center Europe, determined that wound management needed to take priority over fracture repair. They employed multiple methods to manage Rocky's pain, to include placing an epidural catheter, similar to the type of epidural sometimes used for women during child birth.
This technique is not a routine procedure utilized in veterinary medicine, so to make that happen quickly they relied on networking they've established with LRMC and other military medical resources for the needed supplies.
"We actually work closely with the medical community regularly," Chamberlin said. "Veterinary medicine is similar to the care provided to humans." In this particular case, we worked with LRMC's operating room, anesthesia department, pharmacy and orthopedics to supply items that we did not have readily on hand, to provide the best possible care for Rocky."
Once Rocky's ongoing and future pain management was in place, Chamberlin and the veterinary treatment team could focus on treating his injuries.
"The wounds from the blast were so extensive that we had to focus on the skin and muscle damage, as well as the risk for infection, before we could begin work on repairing the fracture to his leg," Chamberlin said. "Not only were we dealing with the effects of the blast itself, but we also had to remove all the shrapnel and debris that that was present in the wounds."
Due to the severity of the wound injuries, Dog Center Europe staff had to wait several days to repair the bone fracture to Rocky's leg. Then Hansen had the sizable task of making Rocky's leg whole again.
"The force of the blast, a piece of shrapnel or contact from being knocked to the ground, snapped Rocky's femur in two major pieces and a small fragment," Hansen said. "We used a stainless steel plate to repair the fracture and placed antibiotic beads to control infection in the area due to the wounds that were still present over the site."
Remarkably, by the following day, Rocky was much more comfortable, eating and walking under his own power - important first steps in his recovery, according to Hansen.
"With continued wound management and focused care, we expect that Rocky's limb will be fully functional and most importantly - pain free," Hansen said. "That's a testament to the team effort that began at the point of injury and continues today."
Through it all, military working dog handlers from Ramstein's 86th Security Forces Squadron and Miesau Army Depot's 525th Military Working Dog Detachment, never left Rocky's side. Since PHCE doesn't have military working dog handlers assigned, both units pitched in and have maintained a 24-hour presence with Rocky to help facilitate his care.
"From the medics who responded to the initial incident, to the coordination with air transport, Air Force and Army military working dog handlers from the region, LRMC, and every stop along the way, Rocky's continuity of care demonstrates the value of working in the joint service military environment," Hansen said. "Working together enables us to provide the highest level of care for military working dogs like Rocky, increases the proficiency of veterinary medical providers, and allows us to share our medical and surgical care strategies with other veterinary providers. This teamwork results in improving the care for all the working dogs as well as the privately-owned pets of all our Regional Health Command Europe customers that seek care at military veterinary treatment facilities across our European footprint."
Chamberlin and Hansen say Rocky still has a long way to go on his road to recovery, but are optimistic he'll be back on the job soon.
Rocky's handler has since left LRMC and was transported to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Md., where he'll continue to receive treatment for his injuries. But before he left, he was reunited with Rocky.
"When we took Rocky to see Specialist Brown, Rocky was able to walk into the room under his own power," Chamberlin said. "The dogs and handlers develop extremely close relationships, so being able to spend time together was beneficial for both of them in the healing process."