Miraculous Help For Wounded Vets

At least 1,945 American service members have been killed in Iraq and almost 15,000 more have been wounded — some so severely that for them, the war will never be over.

CBS News correspondent David Martin has the remarkable story of one such soldier, Paul Statzer — a real American hero — and some miracle workers at Walter Reed Army Hospital.

Specialist Paul Statzer is wearing a helmet and eye patch because of what happened last March in Iraq.

In a moment captured in photographs, his unit was checking out a crater left by a roadside bomb when another one went off. Statzer was enveloped in a maelstrom of smoke and shrapnel, some of which is still in his body.

"There's like three big pieces of it," Statzer says of the metal in his body.

Statzer wears a helmet because he no longer has part of his skull, including part of his frontal lobe of his brain and his left eye. If you're shocked by his appearance, you'll be stunned to know Paul Statzer is going to be all right.

A piece of plastic is being designed by Dr. Stephen Rouse is being molded by a computer controlled laser to make an exact fit with Statzer's skull.

"How much of his head is he really missing?" Martin asks Dr. Rouse.

"It's a large opening in the side of his head," says Dr. Rouse, pointing to the area on a plastic skull.

"That's like half his head," Martin says.

"Yes sir, it is," says the doctor.

Using that plastic plate, surgeons will rebuild Statzer's skull and give him an artificial eye. Apart from scars left by shrapnel, he should look exactly like he did before.

"And to the patient that makes a phenomenal difference," Dr. Rouse says. "They feel like they have their own face back."

If you think Rouse is just saying that to buck up Statzer's spirits, you only need look at Sgt. Scott Thorne.

"That's a significant wound. It's quite disfiguring," says Dr. Rouse of Thome's condition.

But three days after surgeons installed the plastic plate Rouse crafted for him, "the previous injury is just gone," says Dr. Rouse.

Two months later, Thorne threw out the opening pitch at a Major League Baseball game. Rouse has treated 10 soldiers with severe head wounds, and he says eight of them will have pretty normal lives.

"Being able to go back to exactly what you were doing before probably is not an option for most of them," the doctor says. "Being able to go back to a fully successful rewarding life is."

Statzer should have no trouble going back to his civilian job tending bar.

"I'm a little slow on certain things but not that bad," Statzer says.

But is he really the same person? Ask his father.

"When you look at him now, what do you see?" Martin asks.

"Oh, I see the grace of God. He's alive and they never really thought that he'd survive," says Mr. Statzer.

"But is he the boy you sent off to war?" Martin asks.

"Oh yeah. He's the same kid," Mr. Statzer says. "He's going to have some problems, but that's part of the sacrifice for our country."

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com