Dealing with scars of war

November 10, 2008 8:24:29 AM PST
An area soldier is turning tragedy into triumph.Modern armor and battlefield medicine are keeping more soldiers alive after conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. The fatality rate is much lower than in previous military actions. In turn, there is an overwhelming responsibility to provide care for thousands of wounded soldiers who return home.

Air Force Tech Sergeant Israel Del Toro- from suburban New Lenox- is known by his comrades as DT.

"The IED exploded underneath me," said Del Toro, who was injured on December 5, 2005. "I feel this intense blast on the left side and I Knew it was like, 'Holy crap. We got hit.'"

"I was lit from head to toe," said Del Toro. "The flames overtook me and I collapsed and as I lay there I thought I was going to die."

He suffered burns over 80% of his body.

"I thought, man, I'm never going to see my wife or my son again," said Del Toro.

That's all Del Toro remembers. Three months later he woke up at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. He's been undergoing intensive often painful therapy ever since, which includes strengthening his muscles and stretching his skin.

"It hurts a lot and at first your hands are supersensitive. You can't even put a feather on and they have to desensitize and it hurts. Some guys can't take it," said Del Toro.

Del Toro recalls his darkest hour. The day he saw his burned body in the mirror for the first time.

"I saw my face and I broke down you know. I was like I don't want to live just let me die. I was like, if I think I'm a monster, at the time, my boy was 3, it's like what's he going to think. No dad wants his child to be afraid of him," said Del Toro.

His son quickly looked beyond the scars and saw the father he missed so much. Del Toro says since that day he has never looked back. He's fighting hard to regain his independence-- mainly because of his family. He's already undergone more than 100 surgeries with more to follow. Del Toro realizes how lucky he is.

"Five to 10 years ago 80% (of the) guys were not surviving. That's why there's so many of us back because of medicine," said Del Toro.

Del Toro's using his story of survival to speak out on behalf of his severely burned comrades. He said he's grateful for the medical treatment he's received, but thinks those who have lost limbs get a better quality of care.

"There's a whole lot more of us that haven't had amputations so we need to start focusing on the burns. So it's not as cool as seeing robotic legs to see deformed guys stretching to get better," said Del Toro.

Del Toro calls his badly scarred face the reality of war. As painful as it may be for some people to see, Del Toro said Americans should see the scars because so much more can be done to give back to those who have sacrificed.

The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund is responsible for the treatment Del Toro receives.


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