- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—FAIRMONT — “I went to bed the evening of Nov. 9, 2006, I never felt better in my life and I woke up that next morning to a nightmare,” David Tucker said.

Tucker retired from the U.S. Army after serving from 1993-2012.

He served in the National Guard from 1985-91 and recently graduated from Fairmont State University.

While serving in the U.S. Army, Tucker traveled from Germany to Korea and served in tours from Kosovo to Cuba. He also spent time serving state side.

“I was in a unit in Fort Still, Oklahoma, that was really big on physical training,” Tucker said.

On Nov. 9, 2006, Tucker and other members of his unit prepared for a four-day weekend.

But his weekend plans were short lived.

“I was in the worst pain you could possibly imagine,” Tucker said. “My leg was on fire. It was swollen hard as a rock and I couldn’t move my right foot.”

At that moment he knew something was wrong.

“I tried to stand up and I crashed to the floor,” he said. “I had to crawl to the phone to call for help. Thank God I was able to get a hold of someone who got an ambulance.”

Tucker was rushed to the base hospital, where he sat in the waiting for room for a long period of time.

At first doctors did not know what was wrong with him.

Tucker said one doctor who was walking down the hallway just happened to hear about his symptoms. The doctor told others that Tucker had compartment syndrome.

He needed to be operated on immediately or else he could loose his leg.

Tucker said compartment syndrome is caused by the buildup of pressure inside of a limb. This internal pressure is caused by some kind of trauma.

He was rushed to emergency surgery where surgeons performed a fasciotomy. This is a procedure where a cut is made by a scalpel to relieve the internal pressure.

And later, Tucker’s kidneys started to fail.

He spent a total of 32 days in the hospital after the procedure, with one week spent in intensive care.

“I was as helpless as a baby,” Tucker said.

Tucker required six additional operations.

One of those operations required doctors to remove 40 percent of the muscle from his lower right leg.

But while he was on the operating table, doctors almost had to amputate his leg.

“I lost two quarts of blood on the operating table,” Tucker said. “That is one fourth of the blood in your body.”

Four men had to hold Tucker down following what he described as a “violent reaction” to the anesthetic.

“It was a nightmare then,” he said. “I still have nightmares about it.”

When the potential amputation came up, Tucker instantly thought about his military career.

“I just remember how horrified I was,” Tucker said. “I thought my military career was over.”

Tucker said he got through everything with his family and God by his side.

His parents drove 2,000 miles to see him in the hospital.

And when he was first taken to the hospital, Tucker asked to speak with the chaplain at the church. He ended up praying with three people the night before his surgery.

During his hospital stay, Tucker received letters from Fairmont natives. He said he appreciated that support.

“If love and care is the best medicine, I got a miracle drug,” Tucker said.

While compartment syndrome is a serious medical condition, Tucker said his case was acute.

“At one point, I had to be given morphine for two hours,” Tucker said. “There were times I was completely out of my mind. I didn’t know what was going on. Eventually the doctors told me they would be able to save my leg, they just said I would have to wear a brace.”

Tucker said he’ll never forget how relieved he was when they told him he could stay in the army.

“I had to fight for months and months to stay in the army. I loved the army. I was proud to be a soldier and eventually I succeeded,” he said.

“There have been people who didn’t like the military who just had a stubbed toe and used that as an excuse to get out, but I had a serious life-threatening condition where they probably would’ve wanted to have gotten out. I fought to stay in. The thing I remember that kept me going… There’s a saying that I like. ‘Don’t cry because you don’t have shoes. There are people who have don’t have feet.’”

While Tucker visited the Walter Reed Army Medical Center he saw people who had suffered far more than he had.

“I just saw people that were maimed beyond recognition, and they were just as courageous and cheerful as could be,” he said. “That was inspiration to me.”

He said nobody ever had to tell him to stop feeling sorry for himself.

“Looking back, in a way I am grateful for this experience because in a way it made me a more compassionate person,” Tucker said, adding he now volunteers with his church at the Louis Johnson VA Medical Center.

“It’s made me have more compassion for people who suffer. So really in a way this was a blessing. I know a lot of people may hear my story and say ‘you were real unlucky. Aren’t you bitter at the army? Aren’t you upset over this?’

“No, sir. I wasn’t cursed, I was blessed. I had a wonderful career in the military.”

However, Tucker does have one regret.

“The only thing I regret is that I can’t do it all over again,” he said. “I’d do it all over again the same. Even if I knew (the compartment syndrome) would happen to me, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Tucker began and finished his career at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

“Everyone should have been as lucky as I because no one ever had a career finer than me,” Tucker said. “I had a chance to meet great people and do a great job for my country. I found something that I could do with my life that was honorable and useful. I could do it well and I loved doing it. That’s the greatest gift that could be given to anyone in their life.”

Email Richard Babich at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @rbabichTWV.

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(c)2015 the Times West Virginian (Fairmont, W. Va.)

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