News: Improvised explosive device almost claims child’s life
Story by Spc. Cody Barber
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – Improvised explosives devices are known to be destructive and unforgiving and have caused coalition and Afghan National Security Forces numerous casualties and injuries in their effort to help the people of Afghanistan.
Unlike human beings, IEDs cannot tell the innocent from their intended target. Due to this, many civilians are killed or injured yearly from IEDs.
Caught in the midst of an IED attack in Nangarhar province was a young girl who faced life-threatening wounds to both of her hands, legs and abdomen region. At first, she was treated at a local hospital but when her health was deteriorating, it was obvious she needed better care.
She was airlifted to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram to receive advanced care necessary to save her life. Betany Gulalai, 12, arrived at the hospital almost near death.
“When she first rolled in and I first saw her, I was physically upset about the condition this poor child was in,” said U.S Air Force Maj. Chris Wilhelm, a native of Honolulu, and pediatrician with the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing. “She was very malnourished, her wounds were infected and her health was not good.”
Getting her back to being a healthy teenage girl was going to require special care by some highly skilled doctors and nurses.
Immediately they removed all of her previous dressings to examine the extent of her wounds and malnourishment, said Wilhelm.
“We took her back to the operating room, did some corrective surgery, washed out her wounds and redressed them,” said Wilhelm.
That was the first step on her road to recovery. However, she was so malnourished her body would not allow her to eat regularly which provides a critical supplement needed in the healing process, nutrition.
“The main thing we have been doing is nutrition because she can’t heal the wounds she has to her abdomen without proper nutrition,” said Wilhelm. “So we have to add extra [nutrition] to what other food she eats.”
So far, she has had three surgeries and multiple skin grafts to help heal her wounds and get her back to being healthy.
Getting her to exercise and move around can be difficult depending on her level of pain and energy, but the doctors and nurses at CJTH have found a solution, taking her outside.
“When I tell her that she gives me a big smile and is ready to go,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Alisha Acosta, a native of Greeley, Colo., and nurse with the 455th AEW. “She is almost beating me outside with the wheelchair.”
Getting her to move around and exercise rather than stay in bed all day is another important aspect to her recovery.
“Getting her to move her wheelchair, walk using a walker or playing a game helps to build muscle and keeps her moving and healthy,” said Acosta.
Despite the odds, Gulalai is recovering remarkably and daily the staff of CJTH continues to help speed along her recovery.
“The attention the nurses and medical technicians are giving her is why she is getting better,” said Wilhelm. “I see nurses putting her hair up in a braid and stuff like that. That is what makes these children get better, that caring touch.”
Wilhelm also gives Gulalai credit, “She’s a fighter.”
Since Gulalai has been at the hospital, she has been able to enjoy things most Afghanistan children do not ever get a chance to enjoy.
“We introduced her to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and when we gave her that she fell in love with it,” said Wilhelm.
The impact the doctors and nurses have had on the young girl is not only apparent in her health but in the answers she gives when asked what she is going to do when fully healed and back home.
“When I get better, I want to go back to school and study hard and become a doctor and help my country,” said Gulalai, as she tried hard to answer the questions through the pain. “After being in the hospital and being treated by the doctors, I got this feeling to become a doctor and help others.”
There will be mixed emotions for Gulalai when it comes time to leave.
“I am very thankful for being treated by the doctors because they treat me very well and they are helping me,” said Gulalai.” But I am also excited to get back to home and to see my friends and family.”