Wounded veterans return to unprepared medical system

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A sniper’s bullet tore through U.S. Army Sgt. Jamie Jarboe’s neck while he was on patrol during a tour of duty in Afghanistan in April 2011. The bullet shattered three vertebrae, severed Jarboe’s spinal cord and caused severe bleeding. It was the kind of wound that almost certainly would have been fatal in previous conflicts.

But an Army medic was at Jarboe’s side almost immediately to keep him from bleeding out, and within 17 minutes of the shooting a helicopter lifted Jarboe out of the danger zone. In less than an hour, he arrived at a state-of-the-art field hospital in Kandahar, where a medical team was waiting to stabilize him enough so he could be evacuated.

Jarboe arrived back on American soil paralyzed but alive and was able to get the best care the military had to offer at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

But less than a year later he was dead from complications of surgery, one of several medical errors that his wife, Melissa Jarboe, documented in a self-published memoir about her husband’s last months.

“It wasn’t the sniper that shot him that killed him,” Melissa Jarboe, of Topeka, said in a recent interview.

Rather, it was a mistake made during a surgery that took place in May 2011 that eventually killed Jamie Jarboe. A surgeon in training nicked Jarboe’s esophagus. Dozens of attempts were made over the next nine months to repair the damage. But none of them worked. Jarboe died in March 2012.

Jamie Jarboe’s story illustrates a military medical system that is better than ever at saving lives on the battlefield but has not kept pace when it comes to ensuring quality of life for the severely wounded once they come home.

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