The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan changed a lot about how U.S. soldiers are injured. Bombs and other explosives have killed thousands of soldiers and for the ones who survive, oftentimes their limbs do not.
Matt Kinsey loves his home state of Indiana and baseball. His story of going from the diamond to the battlefield and back to the diamond is one he still finds hard to believe after stepping on a landmine while deployed in Afghanistan. "It was a click and boom and there was a big flash and I remember my weapon got blown out of my hand," he said, "I got knocked backwards, I remember the wind got knocked out of me."
Kinsey did not know the extent of his injuries until he was face to face with medics in Afghanistan, then Germany, then at Walter Reed Army Medical Center where an amputation was inevitable. "I didn't know what I was going to do," he said. "I had been an athlete my whole life, I was a paratrooper, everything I did was full speed."
Sadly, Kinsey's horrific injuries are not isolated and those are something war zone Forward Surgical Team (FaST) members like U.S. Army Reserve Major Brett Cascio and Director of Lake Charles Memorial's Sports Medicine Program saw frequently while deployed in Afghanistan. "The bad guys are getting really good at positioning the bomb so that it has maximum effect, meaning it blows off your arm or your hand and your foot at the same time or gives you a concussion," said Dr. Cascio.
When a battlefield injury occurs, the first line of care is one of the FaST tents, set up like a remote ambulance. "We don't really treat anything, we just prevent them from dying for an hour or two, six hours...maybe even overnight depending on the weather and our ability to transport them out to the next echelon of care," said Dr. Cascio.
Next, it is a sterile operating room to try to save lives and limbs. Kinsey has had at least 10 surgeries, leaving him with a prosthetic foot. But thanks to his tenacity, Kinsey has not slowed down and is back on the softball diamond as part of the Wounded Warriors Amputee Team - playing with other amazing athletes. "We have athletes with hand amputations, we've got a guy who's missing his complete shoulder," said Kinsey, "We've got two bilateral amputees and one wounded warrior without an arm."
Sometimes the pain can serve as a bitter reminder of their time overseas. "These young men deal with nerve pain, they deal with what's called 'phantom limb pain' where they think their arm or their leg is still there, but it's not and it can hurt," said Dr. Cascio.
That pain does not stop these young men from inspiring other wounded warriors, veterans and kids with disabilities to rise above extreme circumstances and always keep fighting. "They see us, who've had something traumatic happen and we go on and we keep fighting and keep doing it," said Kinsey, "That's really important to us and that's great."
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