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Docs at city hospital using new technique to save veteran's foot

Daily News—New York—May 25, 2008

It's been five years since major combat operations were declared over in Iraq, but the fighting continues. Troops went to war in Afghanistan weeks after 9/11. Thousands of wounded veterans battle long-term to recover from instantaneous carnage. Here is one soldier's story of pain - and the hope he found here in the city:

The toll of the war wounded exceeds 31,000, and the trademark of the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan is the vet who lost a limb. There are some 750 amputees, and many of these young men and women wear their prosthetic arms and legs proudly uncovered.

But onetime Army medic Jeff Guerin, wounded in Afghanistan 3-1/2 years ago, is fighting to keep his leg in a painstaking process developed by surgeons at Hospital for Special Surgery.

The blast that shattered his left ankle also took most of his sight, and Guerin does not want to have his lower leg amputated as military doctors have advised him.

"I just want to try everything first. ... My life has been taken away by being in the Army. I'll never be able to live like a 25-year-old," Guerin said stoically.

Guerin's tale may end on a brighter note. He found orthopedic surgeons John Kennedy and Austin Fragomen. They are using a promising technique that takes a year to realize results.

"Obviously, Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] deals with the 99.9% who need the amputations. Jeff is in the small percentage who could benefit from this," Kennedy said. "The bone in his ankle joint died. There's a chance, if we get the blood supply in and regenerate the bone."

Guerin came to HSS in January for surgery. Kennedy created little canals in the ankle bone to hold stem cells, which came from bone marrow he took from Guerin's hip.

Fragomen put an external fixator on the ankle. It's a 3-pound circular aluminum frame, with stainless steel pins that are drilled through the bone. The Spanish Inquisition-like device pulls the leg and ankle apart to allow the cartilage to grow.

Guerin wore it for three months.

This story originally appeared at nydailynews.com.


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