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High-Tech Medicine Saving US Military in Iraq

The violence in Iraq has cost many people their lives -- Iraqis, American military, and other coalition. So far, more than 16,000 U.S. soldiers and marines have been injured -- more than half by roadside bombs. VOA's Deborah Block reports on the military medics and doctors who take risks to help them.

More than 2,000 U.S. military have been killed in Iraq. That figure might have been higher but because of advanced medical care more are surviving their wounds. During World War II, 30 percent of injured troops died. In Vietnam it was 24 percent. But in Iraq, so far, only nine percent have died. Body armor has been a major reason. Helmets and flak jackets have saved many lives.

So has the presence of skilled doctors with state-of-the-art medical technology. A combat support hospital at the start of the war -- March 2003 -- had multiple operating rooms, CAT scans, and high tech laboratories.

At one military hospital, doctors have the expertise and experience to perform any type of surgery except organ transplants. Those with serious injuries are rushed out of Iraq to a U.S. military base in Landstuhl, Germany. They are flown on a medevac plane - a mobile intensive care unit, complete with ventilators and heart monitors.

Dr. Bob Medell says the pilots can bring an injured soldier together with doctors in Germany faster than ever before. "I can say fairly definitively, in the Korean war he'd be dead. In the Vietnam War, he'd probably have a 40 percent mortality. Here, I don't know -- maybe 1 in 500.”

But as the medical care has improved, so have the enemy's IED's -- the roadside bombs that are hurting many soldiers.

Dr. Paul Maurer of the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York says, "Instead of one area being traumatized, for example, a bullet to the abdomen, now you'll have an individual with three fragment wounds to the chest, one to the neck, one to the leg, and one to the head all simultaneously."

So the race continues between those who want to hurt, and those who want to heal.