Never before have so many wounded soldiers survived the traumatic injuries of war. A special organization saw the need to help these young survivors. The result is a one-of-a-kind treatment center that the military proudly says is like nothing else in the world.
Army Sgt. Cameron Crouch was pulling security detail at a makeshift courthouse in Baghdad when the roof he was on collapsed.
"I landed on my feet, shattered my legs, broke my pelvis, broke my back," he said.
Army Sgt First Class Tawan Williamson was injured from a roadside bomb
"It blew up under my seat, which caused me to lose my leg and three toes on the right foot," he said.
Air Force tech Sgt. Israel Del Toro was burned over 80 percent of his body, another victim of a roadside bomb.
"The flames overtook me, and I collapsed. And as I lay there, I thought I was going to die," he said.
They are Chicago area soldiers injured overseas. They're three separate stories involving causalities of war and unfortunately typical of what so many of our wounded servicemen and women are now dealing with.
It is these realities of war that spurred an unprecedented effort to create a truly unique treatment facility - The Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio, Texas.
It's been called a State of the World facility because it is like no other. The $50 million rehab center was made possible all by private donations from more than 600,000 Americans.
The money was raised by the intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. CFI sits across from Brooke Army Medical Center, handed over to the Army in January of 2007. It caters to young, healthy patients suffering multiple trauma, from brain injuries to lost limbs to severe burns. They are a different breed of patient. And the high-tech facility is meeting their needs in an unusual way.
"Everything in this building is either simulation, computer driven or extreme-sport oriented. It allows therapy to be disguised as fun and it appeals to this generation," said Rebecca Hooper, CFI.
A gait lab analyzes how an individual walks with a prosthetic, providing instant feedback. Then there's the first-of-its-kind, computer-assisted rehab environment or CAREN. It's a 21-foot virtual reality dome able to play out everyday scenarios.
The patient can maneuver a boat by controlling the moving floor, learning how to take command of his wounded body.
There's even a wave pool. It's like something you might see at a water park. But the attraction is actually teaching amputees core strength, agility, endurance, coordination and, most of all, confidence. Patients, some missing legs or an arm, control boards that even an able-bodied person would find challenging.
"We are able to push them, physically, a lot further, a lot faster than ever before so they're kind of rewriting the books on amputee rehab," said Maj Jay Classing, CFI.
All medical needs are met under one roof - occupational therapy, physical therapy, a prosthetics lab and behavioral medicine.
But don't be fooled. The therapy is often grueling and painful. The patients are spending long hours every day over an average of 12 months, getting better so they can get back to their lives.
"Without coming here, I don't know that I would be walking at all," Crouch said.
Many, such as Sgt. Del Toro, will choose to continue serving their country. Unlike veterans before them, they know modern medicine is giving them the opportunity to finish the job they started.
"I don't use the excuse I've been hurt, oh woe is me. I'm still an NCO in the Air Force. I still got a job to do," Del Toro said.
The charity that raised money to build the Center for the Intrepid is now trying to build a similar facility at Walter Reed Army Hospital. It would specialize in traumatic brain injury.
INTREPID FALLEN HEROES FUND
Brooke Army Med. Ctr.
Center For The Intrepid
Warrior Family Support Center/San Antonio Texas