‘Wounded warriors’ getting top-notch care, speakers say

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Lee Ann Sides Garrett
KANNAPOLIS ó Men and women injured while serving in the U.S. armed forces can expect top-notch care, according to speakers at the N.C. Research Campus.
Part of a series of lectures on modern health dilemmas and research, a session called “Wounded Warrior Care: Care of our wounded heroes,” drew more than 40 people to the Core Lab building Tuesday.
Dr. Margaret C. Wilmoth, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte School of Nursing and a brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserve, talked about the level of care given soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Wilmoth discussed the efforts of the military to combine medical services provided by the various branches, such as Army or Air Force, into one system.
“We’re becoming purple,” Wilmoth said. “Whether you’re in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines, when you’re injured, you’ll go to the closest hospital.”
Wilmoth said survival rates for mortally injured soldiers increased from 70.7 percent in World War II to 90.8 percent in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“We are constantly looking at our care and taking pains to give the highest quality care for our warriors and beneficiaries,” she said.
Dr. Laura Talbot, the Dean W. Colvard distinguished professor in nursing at UNCC, presented information about her Department of Defense-funded study which tests two different approaches to prosthetic rehabilitation as potential treatments for improving muscle strength, pain and functional performance of daily activities in war-injured military personnel.
Talbot recently retired as a colonel from the Air Force Reserve after 30 years of service.
The study involved the use of an FDA-approved neuromuscular electrical stimulation device to improve muscle strength in the quadriceps muscle. The device uses two electrodes to cause an involuntary contraction of the muscle. In typical amputees with prosthetic limbs, Talbot said, the strength of the quadriceps muscle is reduced by atrophy, and loss of strength restricts motion.
The preliminary results of the study showed participants had increases in strength and reduction of pain, Talbot explained.
Talbot said the level of care available for current active-duty soldiers and veterans must be state-of-the art.
“These are not average people who are going to accept a wheelchair,” she said. “Many of them want to return to the types of activities they were participating in before the limb loss.”
“I run the Army 10K every year,” Wilmoth said. “It’s inspirational to see our amputees running along with me, whizzing past me.”
Many of them want to return to active duty, Wilmoth said.
“Just because someone has lost a limb does not keep them from being a valuable member of the team,” she said.
Limb loss in Iraq and Afghanistan has pushed the level of care and research, Talbot said.
“Eighty-six percent of amputees from OIF (Iraq) and OEF (Afghanistan) occur in those younger than age 35,” she said. “Typically, 81 percent of civilian amputees are over the age of 44.”
The preliminary study involved 10 participants over a 12-week period. A larger study will be conducted at three different locations, including UNCC.
Talbot showed a video depicting a young female amputee walking on her prosthetic legs in high heels.
“We want these men and women to get up and do whatever it is that they want to do,” Talbot said.
Patty Painter, of Huntersville, has attended more than 25 lectures in the last few months and was in the audience at the Research Campus for Tuesday’s session, the third in a series of five lectures presented by UNCC and Charlotte Research Institute.
“I love the knowledge,” said Painter, a nurse with Carolinas Medical Center.
Painter, who has attended lectures at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said she is fascinated by the research, and she’s grateful for it.
“They’re all our children,” Painter said. “I wish they could be given even more for what they do.”