Sunday 6 April 2003

Area surgeon aids troops

Boulder man operated on recently rescued POW in Germany

Friday morning: 57 dead; 16 missing; 7 captured.

The daily White House press briefings and fuzzy real-time TV reports fall far short of conveying the brutality of war, says Boulder neurosurgeon Gene Bolles.

Bolles spent Thursday hunched over an operating table at Germany's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, repairing the broken back of Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who was rescued from an Iraqi hospital this week. The 19-year-old soldier will require aggressive rehabilitation, Bolles said, but is expected to recover well — one success story in a war full of tragedy.

"It really is disgustingly sanitized on television," said Bolles, who has spent the last 16 months as chief of neurosurgery at Landstuhl, the destination for the war's most wounded soldiers.

As of Friday, 281 patients had been brought to Landstuhl since Operation Iraqi Freedom started, and plane-loads are arriving regularly.

"We have had a number of really horrific injuries now from the war. They have lost arms, legs, hands, they have been burned, they have had significant brain injuries and peripheral nerve damage. These are young kids that are going to be, in some regards, changed for life. I don't feel that people realize that."

Bolles, 66, had a private practice in Boulder for 32 years before taking the job at Landstuhl. The U.S. military was short on neurosurgeons after Sept. 11, 2001 — having scaled down its medical staff in response to a shrinking troop population in the '90s — and was looking for an experienced civilian doctor willing to work as a contractor for a few years, said Lt. Colonel Bill Monacci, consultant to the Army Surgeon General for neurosurgery.

Bolles, a self-described "pacifist," found his patriotic juices flowing in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, so he postponed his retirement and took the job to help out with Operation Enduring Freedom, the war on terrorism in Afghanistan.

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