Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Good news that breaks your heart

Watching "To Iraq and Back," last night's ABC's documentary about Bob Woodruff's miraculous recovery, wasn't just extraordinary television, it was also heartbreaking. If you missed the airing, you can stream it here at ABC. Framed by the good news about Woodruff and his recovery, the broader picture of the injuries suffered by American troops and the Iraqi people was all the more heartbreaking.

Woodruff suffered terrible head injuries from an IED in Iraq, with more than 100 small stones and rock fragments lodged in his head. His life was saved and his condition stabilized by the same dedicated surgeons in Iraq who have saved the lives of so many American troops. After that, he had the best civilian state-of-the-art medical and rehab care that money could buy. The stone fragments were extracted by the nation's leading small cranial tumor surgeon (the surgical challenges were the same). Therapists worked with a loving family to help him through the process of learning to use language again. His recovery was a stirring tribute to human courage, hope and the best that medical science had to offer.

What was heartbreaking was the contrast between the care he received and that received by soldiers Woodruff interviewed with similar traumatic brain injury (TBI) conditions. They all received the same amazing care as Woodruff at field hospitals in Iraq. They received extraordinary care at Walter Reed and at four regional trauma centers after that. But when they returned home after that, things often fell apart quickly without adequate support from a system that is strained to the breaking point. It left Woodruff discussing with his surgeon his own feelings of guilt about having care that was so much better than the men and women who had put their lives on the line for their country. All this heartbreak, and we haven't even discussed the Iraqi people, who suffer even worse injuries, with almost no medical support at all.

Near the end of the program, Woodruff moved on to discuss an even more widespread problem. TBI isn't always visible. With what we now know about the brain, it's clear that people in the immediate vicinity of an explosion may suffer brain trauma that is not visible or immediately apparent. It may not manifest itself until months or years later. Experts say as many as 10% of the 1.5 troops we've had in Iraq and Afghanistan may be at risk. Yet their problems are barely on the radar screen.

If the Iraq war had been an honest response to a real threat, these terrible injuries and ruined lives -- both American and Iraqi -- would be the tragic price of fighting for freedom. But this war was based on lies, and there never was a real threat to our national security. This war was not a cause, it was a crime.

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