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Repairing The Ravages Of War Wounds

CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier tells her firsthand story of surviving a roadside attack in Iraq.

It was just after 10 a.m. in Baghdad when a massive car bomb tore through the patrol that Dozier, cameraman Paul Douglas and soundman James Brolan were riding in. The blast killed the CBS camera crew and one of the soldiers, and badly injured six more troops. It shattered and burned both of Dozier's legs.

"It took more than 25 surgeries to save me and put me back together," Dozier said.

"Everybody doing their job just right, quickly as they were trained, got her alive, kept her going," trauma surgeon Dr. David Steinbruner said.

Surgeons are saving more injured soldiers than in any previous conflict. Some 90 percent are surviving their injuries in Iraq — substantially more than in Vietnam, Korea and World War II. In Vietnam it was 75 percent; in Korea 76 percent and during World War II it was 70 percent.

But that means the soldiers are surviving to develop secondary problems that doctors have rarely seen, much less figured out how best to treat.

Injured alongside Dozier was Staff Sgt. Nathan Reed. Shrapnel shattered his right knee.

"Plus, I had a bad infection goin', which is, they say, is common to most of the guys that are getting injured in Iraq," Reed said.

Acinetobacter is a drug-resistant bacteria common in blast wounds that can slow healing — or even kill.

Replacing a knee is nearly impossible when there's an infection. So Reed faced a stark choice: Remove the shattered knee and fuse the leg, or take it off.

"So at that point, it pretty much sealed my fate to have my leg amputated," Reed said.

Doctors need to do a lot more research before they can figure out how to give soldiers like Reed another option.

Another complication particular to blast injuries is bone healing gone haywire. That is what happened to Dozier's legs.

"We don't know why this grows," Dr. Andrew Pollak said. "This grows in response to some sort of trauma or some sort of signal."

And all of a sudden from this war, thousands of people are growing excess bone?

"Exactly," Pollack said.

"It's very painful to live with," Dozier said. "The cure is painful, too."

It's another mystery that presents another battle for injured troops when they come home.

"That's why surgeons — and I — went to Capitol Hill this month: To ask Congress for a $50 million cash infusion to jump-start research on extremity injuries," Dozier said. "These are the battles troops face when they come home and battles the medical profession is fighting on our behalf and they need your help, and they need your help."

For Reed, amputation gave him the mobility to return to the job he loves — though now he does it slightly differently.

"Don't think about what you used to have," Reed said. "Think about what you have now. Just move forward and continue on with your life."

Dozier says Congress will decide sometime this fall whether to increase funding for research into treating extremity war injuries.

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