LANDSTUHL, Germany -- A reunion destined for Hollywood was made possible with the opening of a newly constructed Wounded Warrior Rehabilitation Center in Tserovani, Georgia, Jan. 27, where U.S. Soldiers and Airmen were reunited with a Georgian wounded warrior whose life they saved years earlier.
At Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan, multiple echelons of security protect the airfield's occupants from outside threats. On Sept. 6, 2017, Republic of Georgia Armed Forces Lieutenant Iveri Buadze was leading a team of Georgian soldiers outside an entry control point when a motorcyclist drove past a layer of security before being stopped by Buadze and his team. After stopping the driver, the security detail turned the motorcycle off which detonated explosives wounding Buadze and five other coalition service members.
Immediate lifesaving efforts by U.S. Marines in the area helped minimize Buadze's blood loss as they rushed him to the airfield's trauma center.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Michael Dirks, a neurosurgeon assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Medical Group at the time, was one of a handful of trauma surgeons treating casualties from the attack.
"Buadze had innumerable wounds and was in the process of bleeding to death," said Dirks, presently chief of neurosurgery at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and neurosurgery consultant to the Army Surgeon General. "I'm convinced there's very few other places in the world where someone would have lived through the injuries Buadze had."
Dirks credits the Marines' efforts with saving Buadze's life, as evidenced with the need for 180 pints of blood donations during the life saving efforts of the surgical team.
"We had already instituted a blood drive and there was an entire team of surgeons waiting for him," said Dirks. "He had a systolic blood pressure 60 which means he had bled out most of his blood, he was almost dead."
Buadze had suffered multiple life-threatening injuries including head trauma, a brain injury, multiple broken bones, liver failure and more.
According to Dirks, multiple surgeons were operating on Buadze at the same time working to stop bleeding in his neck, stomach and legs. Following the initial operation, a Computerized Tomography scan revealed a subdural hematoma -- bleeding surrounding the brain -- which would require a craniotomy, the removal of skull bone to relieve the built up pressure.
"It was very challenging because he had lost a lot of blood and was quite ill," said Dirks, a native of Rapid City, South Dakota. "Ultimately, we transferred him to LRMC, where he was very fortunate to be taken care of by another great team."
According to Buadze's neurosurgeon at LRMC, U.S. Army Maj. George Rymarczuk, Buadze arrived with multiple major injuries, including significant damage to his right leg and arm and penetrating trauma to his neck, chest and abdomen.
"He had some of the more severe injuries I've seen in quite a while," said Rymarczuk. "I did not think he was going to survive or, if he did, I didn't expect him to have any semblance of a good quality of life."
Miraculously, after two months in a coma, Buadze began to show signs of improvement and ultimately came out of the coma before spending several months in rehabilitation at LRMC and eventually Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Due to Buadze's condition and the lack of robust resources for wounded warriors in Georgia at the time, he continued his recovery at WRNMMC, even being dubbed a miracle patient as he progressed beyond his medical teams' determinations.
"This was a huge effort to save (Buadze) and there are a lot of people involved. (The trauma surgeons) had major roles but we were three (out) of hundreds," said Dirks. "The reason we (traveled to the opening) was because (Buadze) requested we be there. He's like a poster child for wounded warriors, has such an amazing story and they think through his actions he probably said the lives of several U.S. Marines and Georgian soldiers."
After meeting with Buadze during the rehabilitation center opening, Dirks was astonished at his capability to speak and move with minimal handicap.
According to the U.S. Embassy in Georgia, the center will provide purposeful, meaningful activities and services. The U.S. government provided a grant for the creation of the new rehabilitation center which will serve some of the 230 Georgian and 139 Ukrainian soldiers and their families currently in the wounded warrior program.
For Dirks, Buadze's courage and resilience inspired him at a point in his career where he questioned the medical ethics involved with his profession. According to American Medical Association's Journal of Ethics, the ethical dilemma involved with trauma surgeons encompasses more than saving a patient's life and includes the split-second decisions surgeons are required to make, sacrificing what the patient may want in favor for a patient's best interest.
"Neurosurgery is a really hard way to live your life, (and) for everyone who turns out like (Buadze) and is happy to be alive, there's another one whose family hates me because their loved one is in a dependent nonfunctional state," explained Dirks. "Ethically it's hard to know what to do sometimes, but this was a good outcome. My experience with (Buadze) steered me in the right direction and showed me there's purpose to all this sacrifice."
During the visit, Dirks, who previously served as an infantryman before commissioning as an Army officer, was able to share his experiences with physicians at the new rehabilitation center in hopes of continued contributions to Buadze's medical care and wellbeing.
"We move around a lot in the military, and when we're deployed we have a different patient population that we have at a (U.S. medical treatment facility), I never expected to see him again," said Dirks. "Miracles happen because we set the conditions for them to happen. Everyone from the first responders, the Marines that helped stop the bleeding to (the recovery team) at Walter Reed."
In a message for the medical professionals responsible for his care at LRMC, Buadze, who is now a captain and continues serving in the Georgian Armed Forces, thanked them for their service and said he was proud and thankful for what they did for him.
LRMC is the largest American medical facility outside the United States. Part of the hospital's mission is to receive wounded, injured and ill U.S. service members, government employees and contractors serving in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, as well as patients from NATO Allied nations and partner countries like Georgia.