From war, lives are saved

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Soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan have the highest casualty survivability rate in modern history, according to the U.S. military. Of those injured, more than 91 percent will return to duty.

Those results reveal not just the tenacity of the modern soldier, but also the work done by the roughly 11,000 medical professionals working to save their lives and return them to peak health.

Doctors today have more tools than ever before to save a soldier’s life.

It’s an unintended consequence of war.

Any time the country sends its men and women off to combat, the medical community learns something new about the healing arts. Eventually, that information reaches the civilian population.

Among the many innovations helping today’s soldiers, and therefore available to injured people across the country, include a variety of bloodclotting bandages. Uncontrolled bleeding is a key cause of death during combat operations, forcing physicians to come up with improved treatment methods.

The latest bandages are made from a variety of materials, from a biodegradable carbohydrate typically found in lobsters and shrimp to wrappings that absorb the liquid out of the blood to increase clotting.

Dr. David Ciesla, Washington Hospital Center’s director of trauma services, says trauma care advances “can happen very rapidly” during combat years.

“It’s a fortunate side effect of an unfortunate issue. People get a lot of experience very quickly,” Dr. Ciesla says.

In Iraq today, the most common injuries involve blast wounds, primarily caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Advanced body armor protects the soldier’s trunk, but other parts of the body such as pelvis, neck and face are more vulnerable, Dr. Ciesla says.

One of the major differences between today’s medical treatment and what happened in the past involves the evacuation of seriously injured soldiers.

Rapid evacuation means soldiers are given just enough treatment at the first staging area to keep them alive and stable, then they are transferred to a better-equipped station.

Another recent change to soldiers’ care involves what he calls “damage control surgery.”

“You provide only enough surgical care to preserve metabolic function and stop bleeding,” he says. “Then, you evacuate them to a more appropriate facility.”

“All this,” he says, “evolved in the most recent [Operation] Iraqi Freedom.”

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