By Carol J. SlavinApril 26, 2007
The following is by Carol J. Slavin, mother of Sgt. Thomas "T.J." Slavin, who received care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center after being severely wounded in Iraq.
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 26, 2007) - Amid all the news reports of the "deplorable" conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, I would like to share my family's experience. It is most distressing that America's best doctors and nurses and all hospital personnel at Walter Reed are being painted with the same brush. It is not fair. There is another side of the story.
Walter Reed Army Medical Center's motto: "We Provide Warrior Care."
Aug. 23, 2006, my son, Sgt. Thomas (T.J.) Slavin was severely injured in Iraq. Aug. 24, I received a phone call from Fort Hood, Texas, (his home base) informing me T.J. had been severely wounded and was in serious condition. I was told the Humvee he was traveling in hit an IED. IED - Improvised Explosive Device - how I've come to hate that phrase. T.J. was airlifted by helicopter to the 10th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad, where he underwent emergency surgery.
I have often thought of the helicopter pilot and medics who, under hostile conditions, kept their cool and did their "jobs." Later, when T.J.'s father and I were thanking the doctors at Walter Reed, his orthopedic surgeon told us we should be thanking the surgeons in Baghdad. He told us the initial leg surgery that was performed at the 10th Combat Support Hospital enabled the doctors at Walter Reed to save his leg. I am thankful to the unknown helicopter pilot who, without hesitation, flew into danger to rescue an injured Soldier, the medics who performed first aid on the fly, and the doctors and nurses in Iraq who, under adverse conditions, performed successful surgery.
When T.J. stabilized, he was flown to Landstuhl, Germany, and by Sunday night was on his way home. Sunday afternoon I received a phone call from Washington, D.C., asking when his dad and I would be ready to leave for D.C. to be with T.J. T.J.'s father and I are divorced. We were both asked if we prefer separate flights - not necessary. T.J. arrived at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center at 6 a.m., Monday, Aug. 28. He was immediately taken to the OR for his second leg surgery.
His dad and I arrived at 4 p.m. We were met at Reagan Airport and brought to the Mologne House. Again, because we are divorced, and only one room per family is allowed, I elected to stay at the Mologne House, located on the Walter Reed compound. The Army provided a room for Tom at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Free shuttle service was provided.
After checking in, we were taken to the Family Assistance Office at the hospital. We were introduced to Ms. Spencer, a woman whose assistance, caring, compassion and dedication to our Soldiers and their families were amazing. She asked if we were OK and if we needed anything. All we needed was to see our son. Ms. Spencer escorted Tom and me to the ICU to see our son. Absolutely nothing can prepare a parent for that long walk to the ICU at Walter Reed to see your son for the first time.
I remember trying so hard to be strong. Trying so hard to keep it together. Trying so hard not to cry. Tom kept saying, "I just want to see two legs and his ugly puss!" He did! And the tears came. T.J. was a sight for sore eyes! All the hardware sticking out of his leg, all the cuts and abrasions, and looking so hurt and helpless. Boy, did he look great to us!
That evening we met with his team of orthopedic surgeons. They explained the extent of his injury to his left leg and their game plan to ensure T.J. the use of his leg. A third leg surgery was scheduled for Thursday. They were a great team of surgeons.
We met with his team of internal-medicine doctors. They explained the injuries to his kidneys and informed us of their course of action. A few minutes later, T.J.'s team of neurosurgeons met with us. Up to this point, we were aware T.J. had a back injury, but had no idea the extent of his back injury. T.J.'s lumbar spine was crushed. He had no feeling from his hips down. The news was devastating to us. The chief neurosurgeon explained the surgery they planned on performing the next morning (Tuesday). He drew a diagram on the white board in T.J.'s room. They would go in through his side and remove all the bone fragments, some of which were piercing his spinal cord, and replace his lumbar spine with a steel cage filled with a manmade bone material. It was extremely delicate surgery.
We arrived back at the hospital at 6 a.m. Tuesday morning to spend some time with T.J. before his surgery. He would be in surgery for 12 hours. One of us was in the waiting room at all times. A nurse would periodically call in to give us a progress report. Eventually the neurosurgeons walked into the waiting room all smiles and asked for the Slavin family. They all gave "thumbs up"! Happy, happy tears! They said we could see T.J. in about an hour. They warned us ahead of time that our son was intubated and not to be alarmed. The multiple surgeries and anesthesia were too much for him. He needed help to breathe.
It was devastating to see T.J. on life support. It's an image that will stay with me the rest of my life.
He had Wednesday off. Thursday, his third leg surgery was performed. The hardware was removed. His leg was cut open from knee to ankle on the inside and outside of his leg. The doctors used a manmade bone material and pieced his tibia and fibula bones back together. A steel rod was placed in the center between the bones and screwed to his knee and to his ankle.
Surgery stage is complete - four major surgeries in seven days. The injuries to his kidneys were healing, as were the cuts, abrasions, etc. On to recovery.
When T.J. was moved from ICU to Ward 57, physical and occupational therapies began. Carla and Solomon were T.J.'s physical therapists. T.J. had physical therapy every day. Some days it was very difficult for me to watch. It hurt to see my son in such pain. There were times when I had to leave the room.
Carla knew I was having a tough time and told me to envision him six months down the road - walking! Solomon was a sports nut. He kept all the guys going with his trash talking (good natured) of their hometown teams! Especially Boston teams. I can remember T.J. telling me he didn't want to go to therapy Monday morning after the Pats lost. He knew Solomon would bust his chops. But he couldn't wait to get to therapy when the Cowboys blew a big game! Solomon was more than a therapist; he was a friend. Carla and Solomon are dedicated to our Soldiers. They treated T.J., Tom and me with compassion, respect and gave their all to our son. With their expert knowledge and dedication, T.J. is walking today.
T.J. had occupational therapy every day. Nancy was T.J.'s occupational therapist. Because of his injuries, T.J. had to learn to do everyday things all over again. Tom and I tried to have one of us with T.J. at all time. But there were days when that weren't possible. Typical mother, I worried about his laundry. Nancy said "no problem, we'll do it for occupational therapy." Nancy took T.J. on his first "field trip" to the Mologne House. T.J. would be staying at the Mologne House when he became an outpatient. Nancy made sure T.J. was able to take care of himself once he became an outpatient. Nancy is dedicated to our Soldiers.
T.J.'s psychologist was Mr. Fineman. Mr. Fineman met and talked with T.J. concerning any issues T.J. might have. Mr. Fineman is dedicated to the well being of our Soldiers.
Maj. Ann Hall was T.J.'s nutritionist. Ann visited T.J. daily. She assured him he would get his strength and body back. We learned that severe trauma could bring on diabetes. T.J. had to take insulin. This was very distressing. Ann visited T.J. every day and reassured him that it was temporary. He was to eat. Get his strength back and his sugar would eventually even out and he would no longer require insulin. Ann was right on the money. Ann is very dedicated to our Soldiers.
In the beginning, when T.J. wasn't eating and didn't have much of an appetite, he asked for a bowl of Rice Krispies. Yes! He wants to eat! I went to the kitchen on the ward. All out. It was getting late. I grabbed my wallet and was off to the cafeteria, hoping it was still open. The head of the cafeteria was just about to close the door. I yelled, "Could I please buy a box of cereal'" I quickly explained the situation. His answer, "We care for our warriors. Come on in." He (I wish I knew his name) filled a bag with several boxes of cereal. Asked, "What kind of milk' Would he like some fresh fruit' Would he like some yogurt' Would he like some Fruit20s'" When I opened my wallet to pay, he laughed. Warriors don't pay for food at Walter Reed. He reminded me that if there was anything T.J. wanted, all we had to do was ask.
T.J.'s unit was still in Iraq. His unit suffered many casualties. The driver of the Humvee in which T.J. had been traveling was killed instantly in the blast. The only communication with his unit in Iraq was through e-mail. There is a computer room on every floor at the hospital. But, because of T.J.'s injuries, he was not able to sit at a computer desk, especially after a grueling physical therapy session. I went to Ms. Spencer and explained how important it was that T.J. be able to "talk" with his buddies. A short time later a Dell laptop was brought to his bedside. Not only could he communicate with his buddies in Iraq, but with friends and family back home. It was a giant step forward in his recovery. Ms. Spencer was a tremendous patient advocate. No one is more devoted to our Soldiers.
It just so happened that the day T.J. was transferring to the Mologne House, neither his father nor I were with him. Nancy and Ms. Spencer packed up his hospital room, rode the shuttle with him to the Mologne House, unpacked and put away his belongings, and got him settled in.
The one person T.J. respected and cared for the most was Capt. Anderson. Capt. Anderson was the doctor in charge of his overall care. I met Capt. Anderson on several occasions. I am very thankful for his compassion, devotion and dedication to my son's well being.
After six months at Walter Reed, T.J. requested a transfer to Darnell Army Hospital located on Fort Hood, Texas. His unit was back from Iraq, and he wanted to be with them. He is receiving wonderful medical care at Darnell.
We will be forever grateful to the doctors, nurses, therapists, cafeteria workers, volunteers, the Family assistance personnel and the Mologne House personnel at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center for their exemplary medical skills, compassion, dedication and devotion to our son.
They provided "Warrior Care."
T.J. is in the process of being medically discharged. He hopes to complete his physical therapy and be discharged in the fall. T.J. is a college graduate with plans to pursue his master's degree. Although T.J. will have some physical limitations, he is looking forward to a very bright, wonderful future.
Thank you to our Families, friends, neighbors and co-workers for your continued support. It was your love and prayers that carried us through our ordeal. Please continue to keep T.J. and all our Soldiers serving overseas and all our wounded Soldiers recovering in military hospitals around the world in your thoughts and prayers.