30 March 2008

A Farewell to Two Heroes

A Farewell to Two Heroes

I wish to offer my remembrance, thanks, and admiration for two fellow troops who are no longer with us. They gave all in their service of country and I feel that I am forever in their debt. Though I can never repay them, I can remember them and try to honor them for giving of their youth because they believed that our country was worth it.

Sgt. Matt Maupin was taken prisoner by insurgents near Baghdad international airport in 2004. Although he was seen to be in the custody of insurgents on a video, his fate remained unknown. He was 20-years-old at the time. In 2005, during my deployment, I walked by his portrait every night when I went to the DFAC for dinner. I wondered where he was and I hoped that maybe he was getting a hot meal or some little comfort. During my second deployment in 2007, he was still missing in action. I carried a small wallet-size photograph of his portrait in my war wallet. I visited his family's website and hoped like them that somehow he had survived his capture.
Today I learned that Sgt. Maupin's body has been identified in Iraq. Rest easy, brother. MIA is horrible, but it is better than KIA. We owe it to you to keep this country great enough to deserve the sacrifice you made. Every decision made in this war must count the immeasurable value of your life in the balance. You are not forgotten. (Picture Source: Yellow Ribbon Support Center)

I met Airman Paige Villers when she was already sick enough to need to be in the intensive care unit in Texas. Although she was an adult, I was asked to see her because her illness required a therapy that we usually use on children with critically ill lungs. I performed a small procedure on her that was a drop in the bucket of care provided to her by over a hundred techs, nurses, and doctors while she was in our hospital. She was 19-years-old at the time. I thought she looked so young to be a troop, and so young to be fighting for her life. But then again, they all do to me. I met some of her family. They stayed by her side and basked her in the healing of a family's unconditional love. She rallied the way that only a young, strong body can. She was able to graduate from basic military training like so many other newest Airmen. We were so proud of her. Even though it was her achievement, we felt that somehow her honor reflected on us. When she relapsed and died shortly after it was crushing for all of us. When I saw her story published in Airman magazine and the beautiful pictures of her in good health, it immediately brought back the sting of loss . She was buried with full military honors. She deserves that and much more than we can give her for laying down her life for her country in a time of war. She was just 13 when this war started. When she was old enough, she chose to join the military and give something back to her country. She gave so much. Airman Villers, I honor you, I thank you for your selfless sacrifice, and I will remember you. (Picture Source: Ohio.com Photo Gallery)

24 March 2008

Operation Iraqi Healing - Severus Worldwide

Operation Iraqi Healing - Severus Worldwide

I find myself back in Texas after a whirlwind trip to the northeast. B. and I got to visit my parents, but we happily reunited with M. and our two younger boys by the time Easter rolled around. Seems like there were a lot of planes breaking down on both of our trips. We actually ended up leaving a day late, and from a different city. Likely there hasn't been some sudden change in the durability of planes, but news of Southwest flying some planes after inspection lapses has changed the airlines' sensitivity.

I want to share with you an organization that is attempting make some changes to shore up the Iraqi health care infrastructure. It is a non-governmental organization of private US citizens called Severus Worldwide. They have been kind enough to call on my experience to be an advisor from time to time.

Here is a communique from VP John Waltz, a retired military man himself:

"I wanted to share an important milestone in our operations at Severus Worldwide. After a lot of hard work and effort, we have officially "adopted" our first clinic, which is the Maternity and Child Teaching Hospital in Al-Qadisiya/Al-Diwaniya."

The clinic in Al-Qadisiya is close to my heart because I know the pediatric surgeon there. With limited resources, he does amazing work for children and has remained in his country in spite of personal risk and hardship for his family. If you wish to help Severus Worldwide, you can get information on their website or contact Mr. John Waltz :


22 March 2008

And some good news from Iraq

I would like to share news of some great work being done in the Air Force Hospital by Josh and the rest of his crew:


Best wishes to you all, and I hope that you are able to enjoy Easter with your families. For those of you far from home this weekend, we are thinking of you.

20 March 2008

Red Cross report on Iraq

I would like to share an excerpt from the International Committee of the Red Cross report on living conditions in Iraq. It details how the Iraqi people are still experiencing a deficiency in health care. The entire report can be found here.

(Begin Quote)

Five years after the war began, many Iraqis do not have access to the most basic health care. There is a lack of qualified staff and many hospitals and health-care facilities have not been properly maintained. Because of poor security conditions in much of the country, the sick and injured are often cut off from access to medical care. In some areas, it has become extremely difficult to provide emergency medical services, supplies or equipment because of numerous checkpoints on the roads and curfews restricting movement. Some people go to private clinics, which are safer but also more expensive – so much so that a large part of the population could never afford them. A private-sector consultation typically costs between two and seven US dollars, depending on the quality of the service. It is not at all clear how people earning less than five dollars a day could ever pay so much. Hospitals and health-care centres often lack drugs and other essential items. There are not enough functioning emergency rooms and operating theatres to cope with mass casualties. There are currently 172 public hospitals with 30,000 beds – well short of the 80,000 beds needed – plus 65 private hospitals. Most of the hospitals were built over 30 years ago and are in sub-standard condition. This is also true of many of the primary health-care centres, which have been using the same equipment for 25 years. Medical facilities and equipment everywhere except in the northern part of the country are regularly in need of repair and upgrading. Because of the poor security situation, proper maintenance has been impossible. The lack of qualified and experienced medical staff, in particular in the governorates of Najaf, Missan, Anbar, Wasit and Babil, has had a direct impact on the level of care available. For instance, the lack of midwives means that many women giving birth at night must do so without assistance, since poor security conditions and curfews prevent them from going to hospital. Like many other Iraqis, medical doctors, nurses and their families are in danger of being kidnapped or killed. Some have received threats against them. According to official Iraqi sources, more than 2,200 doctors and nurses have been killed and more than 250 kidnapped since 2003. Of the 34,000 doctors registered in 1990, at least 20,000 have left the country. The Iraqi health-care system is now in worse shape than ever. Many lives have been lost because prompt and appropriate medical care is not available. More needs to be done to ensure that all Iraqis have access to improved health services. Medical personnel and the facilities they work in must be better protected against the impact of war. There needs to be a renewed effort not only to maintain and upgrade medical facilities but also to develop the skills and capacity of medical staff.

(End Quote: Source, International Committee of the Red Cross, 2008)

06 March 2008

6 MAR 2008 Raise the Roof

6 MAR 2008 Raise the Roof

Hi Friends.

Just because I don't check in that often doesn't mean that I'm not thinking of you...

Today has meaning. On this day, three years ago, a two-year-old Iraqi girl in my care died. Her name was M. A month prior she had been burned when an insurgent threw a firebomb through the front window of her family home. The reason they were attacked was her father was in the Iraqi National Guard.

In Balad, we took care of her for a month, cleaning her burns, grafting her skin. We took care of the whole family because they had all been burned in the attack. Even the father burned his hand rescuing his daughters. One by all of them became well enough to go home, except M. We made small steps forward, but never fully got ahead of the damage. Eventually she developed an overwhelming infection and died. A few weeks later her father was killed in battle. I sit here in my warm, safe home and I remember them.

Friends in Balad are continuing to work hard to give excellent medical care to anyone who comes through the door. I want to introduce you to Josh. I have seen him come up through the ranks and become a world-class surgeon as he completed his residency. He is now providing fine care to the troops in Iraq.

He sent me great pictures of his crew erecting a roof on OR5, which is on the roof of the hospital.

The scene and the faces are very familiar to me.

Better than that, Josh is blogging about his work in Balad. You can find it here. The address is:


I enjoy reading his posts. I think you will too.

Best wishes,


01 March 2008

1 MAR 2008 A project seeking memories of fallen heroes

1 MAR 2008 A project seeking memories of fallen heroes

Hi Friends,

You don't hear from me much because my life is blissfully boring! I have been operating on children and seeing patients in clinic at our military treatment facility in Texas. Recently I was given the privilege to care for the child of a friend with whom I deployed to Iraq in 2005. His child is strong and healthy, and thankfully shows every sign of being on the road to recovery after this illness. It humbles me so to know that someone who has seen me at my best and worst during the trials of combat surgery thinks I'm good enough to trust with their precious child. In my odd view of the world, it means more than a stranger choosing me to care for their child, based merely on the authority given to me by title and training, not specific knowledge of me as an individual. (But it's not about me, it's about the child getting well, by whatever route necessary!)

Today I was contacted by Izumi Tanaka, a producer who is working on a very touching project. I will let his words explain:

For the last several months, I have been working with a distinguished Japanese fashion photographer, Hisashi Shimizu, on a very meaningful project. It is a photographic documentary portraying the memories of American soldiers who lost their lives in the current war in Iraq. It is not intended to be a political statement but to be personal. We have so far visited 13 families throughout California. They all graciously allowed us to their home to photograph their private space, and most in turn, thanked us for letting the memories of their children captured so they will not be forgotten. Some sample of what we've photographed so far can be viewed at: http://www.sunnyside-media.com/Projects/Memories Hisashi will be publishing and exhibiting this body of work in Japan, and I'm personally hoping he can get it exhibited in the U.S. as well. Today, I'm writing you as I am planning the last phase of the photography in March and need help in identifying some families who might be willing to be a part of this project. Do you know anyone, who lost their children or spouse in Iraq? If so, you can forward this message to them or let me know so I can contact them directly. I also have much more detailed explanation of what we are doing to provide for people who are interested. Thank you for your help.

Sincerely, Izumi

I do not know Izumi or Hisashi personally, but speaking as an individual, I have visited their website and find the photographs to be very personal, haunting, and intense, in spite of being views of everyday homes that could very well be our own. If anyone reading this wishes to contact Izumi, his contact information is below. On his website is a fascinating feature of a documentary relating the life of a gang member rebuilding his life after being paralyzed.

Izumi Tanaka
Sunnyside Pictures Documentary,