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Military Medicine: Beyond The Battlefield

Bob Woodruff talks with a Critical Care Air Transport Team (CCATT) aboard a C-17 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
Courtesy of NJTV
Bob Woodruff talks with a Critical Care Air Transport Team (CCATT) aboard a C-17 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Airs Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016 at 1 p.m. on KPBS TV

ABC News Award-winning Journalist Bob Woodruff Hosts Documentary Reporting on the Science & Technology Saving and Changing the Lives of America’s Service Members

“Military Medicine: Beyond The Battlefield” tells the stories of the men and women who are at the forefront of the medical frontier winning victories for military personnel and civilians.

Premiering Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016 at 10 p.m. on PBS, the documentary reports on the doctors and surgeons treating survivors returning home to resume their lives and recover from sometimes critical injuries. The program airs nationwide the week of Veterans Day (November 11) and is part of Veterans Coming Home, a nationwide public media project helping to bridge the military-civilian divide.

Lt. Col. Bryan Forney, USMC, puts on his Intrepid Dynamic Exoskeletal Orthosis (IDEO) brace with the help of John Fergason, chief prosthetist at the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. The IDEO brace, invented at the CFI, enables patients to walk, and sometimes even run, despite severely injured legs and ankles.
Courtesy of NJTV
Lt. Col. Bryan Forney, USMC, puts on his Intrepid Dynamic Exoskeletal Orthosis (IDEO) brace with the help of John Fergason, chief prosthetist at the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. The IDEO brace, invented at the CFI, enables patients to walk, and sometimes even run, despite severely injured legs and ankles.

ABC News Correspondent Bob Woodruff, who was critically injured while covering the War in Iraq in 2006 and was saved by the advances in military medical care, brings his personal understanding of the issues to his role as host and correspondent of the special.

“The goal is not only to save lives, it’s to return the wounded to the lives they want to live,” says Woodruff in the film.

Bob Woodruff talks with a Critical Care Air Transport Team (CCATT) aboard a medical evacuation plane at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The advance in critical care transport added up to thousands of lives saved.
Courtesy of NJTV
Bob Woodruff talks with a Critical Care Air Transport Team (CCATT) aboard a medical evacuation plane at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The advance in critical care transport added up to thousands of lives saved.

More than 5,300 U.S. service members were killed in action during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts in the years between 2001 and 2014. But of the thousands of severely wounded who made it to combat hospitals, 96 percent came home alive.

"Military Medicine" reveals the lifesaving measures implemented as a result of these wars – including faster medical evacuations, the creation of critical care air transport teams that turn planes into flying intensive care units, and the increased use of tourniquets. Military doctors who have treated wounded troops abroad and at home explain how military medicine has changed over the past 15 years.

John Fergason (right) is the chief prosthetist at the Center for the Intrepid, a rehabilitation facility at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.
Courtesy of NJTV
John Fergason (right) is the chief prosthetist at the Center for the Intrepid, a rehabilitation facility at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

“Throughout history, through periods of war, there have always been advances in medical care,” says Brig. Gen. Jonathan Woodson, M.D., U.S. Army Reserve and former assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. “So if war is the dark side of the human experience where humanity fails, medicine has always provided some hope and light.”

Rory Cooper, PhD, (left) looks on as a researcher at the Human Engineering Research Laboratories in Pittsburgh, Pa. tests a wheelchair fitted with a robotic arm. Cooper, a disabled veteran, co-founded the labs with the mission to improve mobility for all people with disabilities.
Courtesy of NJTV
Rory Cooper, PhD, (left) looks on as a researcher at the Human Engineering Research Laboratories in Pittsburgh, Pa. tests a wheelchair fitted with a robotic arm. Cooper, a disabled veteran, co-founded the labs with the mission to improve mobility for all people with disabilities.

Using the best science and technology available, the physicians and scientists in military medicine work to improve the lives of America’s wounded, as well as their families. Woodruff takes viewers inside laboratories, hospitals, and rehabilitation centers, where military medical advances and technology are making artificial arms with life-like responses, 3-D printing new organs, adding robotic arms to wheelchairs, and giving damaged legs new strength.

Ear scaffold. At the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., scientists use a specially-modified 3D printer to build structures that may one day create organs, tissues and bones for human transplant.
Courtesy of NJTV
Ear scaffold. At the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., scientists use a specially-modified 3D printer to build structures that may one day create organs, tissues and bones for human transplant.

Woven throughout the documentary are the personal accounts from active duty troops, veterans, civilians and military families who share how medical advances are both saving and changing their lives. Among the stories presented is that of retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Ramon Padilla, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Padilla participated in a trial of a robotic prosthetic arm that uses implanted sensors to stimulate movement. Thanks to this groundbreaking technology, he can bend his thumb and play ball with his children, neither of which he could do with his first prosthetic arm.

Retired Col. Paul Pasquina, M.D. examines Sgt. 1st Class (Ret.) Ramon Padilla’s prosthetic arm in his office at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.
Courtesy of NJTV
Retired Col. Paul Pasquina, M.D. examines Sgt. 1st Class (Ret.) Ramon Padilla’s prosthetic arm in his office at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.

In terms of numbers, the biggest medical challenge for the military is treating service members with brain injuries like retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Elana Duffy, who is dealing with memory loss and other symptoms of a traumatic brain injury she sustained while serving in Iraq in 2005. Specialized clinics, such as one at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, featured in the documentary, are helping service members identify and heal from these invisible wounds.

Retired Sgt. 1st Class Elana Duffy who suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq scales a rock climbing wall in Queens, N.Y.
Courtesy of NJTV
Retired Sgt. 1st Class Elana Duffy who suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq scales a rock climbing wall in Queens, N.Y.

The program also delves beyond the medical aspects of medicine. Considered a special “healing place” by veterans is Richard’s Coffee Shop in Mooresville, North Carolina. In operation for more than 20 years, the place offers free coffee for veterans and an opportunity for them to connect every Thursday.

“I think this place, Richard’s Coffee Shop, is some of the best military medicine around,” says retired Staff Sgt. Dale Beatty, who lost both of his legs while serving in Iraq as a member of the U.S. Army National Guard. After recovering, Beatty co-founded Purple Heart Homes, an organization that provides housing solutions for disabled veterans.

There is still much to be done beyond the battlefield. “You know it goes back to George Washington's phrase — and I paraphrase now — that ‘the extent to which future generations will serve is directly proportional to how they see the current era veterans being treated,’ ” Woodson says. “And so, if we don't treat them well, if we don't welcome them back into communities and embrace them and fully support them, we put our future national security in jeopardy.”

JOIN THE CONVERSATION:

Veterans Coming Home is on Facebook, Instagram, and you can follow @VetsComingHome on Twitter. Richard's Coffee Shop is on Facebook.

CREDITS:

A production of Public Media NJ, Inc. for WNET. Executive Producer/Writer: Sally Garner. Producer: Ally Gimbel. Editor: Lisa Palattella. Executives-in-Charge: Stephen Segaller and Neal Shapiro. Executive-in-Charge for NJTV: John Servidio.