Wounded U.S. soldiers in Iraq have highest survival rate

Nicole Kurker-Stewart

With all the bad news centered on the war in Iraq, it is encouraging to know that for every American soldier killed in Iraq, nine others have been wounded and survived. This is the highest rate of any war in United States’ history, and it is due to better protection and faster treatment. Says one new report, the injuries sustained are equally serious as those suffered in other wars, but the victims who previously would not have lived are today surviving. “This is unprecedented. People who lose not just one but two or three extremities are people who just have not survived in the past,” said Dr. Atul Gawande, a Boston surgeon who researched military medicine.

New protection includes armor-like vests and Kevlar helmets. “The critical core, your chest and your abdomen, are protected,” said Dr. George Peoples, a surgeon who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The other reason for the higher survival rate is faster treatment. Doctors are on the move with the soldiers, equipped with surgical kits in backpacks. Currently in Iraq, six Humvees, or armored vehicles, travel with troops and perform surgery on the spot. “Within an hour, we drop the tents and set up the OR tables, and we can pretty much start operating immediately,” said Peoples.

More effective surgery is also being performed by fewer numbers of general surgeons. The entire army only has 120 on active duty and a similar number in the reserves. Only 30 to 50 of this 120 are in Iraq, along with 10 to 15 orthopedic surgeons. These doctors care for 130,000 to 150,000 troops, said Gawande.

By mid-November, 10,369 US troops had been wounded in battle in Iraq or Afghanistan. Of this number, 1,004 had died. This means a survival rate of about 90 percent. To put this in perspective, in comparison one in four wounded died in the Vietnam War, a survival rate of only 75 percent. This was largely due to the fact that many soldiers in Vietnam could not get treatment in time. It is thus encouraging to note how much more successful the United States has become in saving the lives of its wounded soldiers.