14 January 2008

Meet one of your Marines, Cpl. Zachary Briseno

"They told me the other guys are ok, but I won't believe it until I talk to them myself."

That was one of the first things Zachary said to me.

Less than 36 hours earlier his vehicle had been hit by an IED. The other guys pulled him out of his destroyed truck, put him in a different one, and rushed him back to Camp Fallujah.

He said the ride was the worst.

Zach was treated at Fallujah Surgical and again at the 86th CSH before being flown to Germany.

We suspect it was the Doc at Fallujah Surgical who left this message on Zach's arm for the Docs further uprange. This is often done because patients move quickly from one medical caregiver to another.

11/29/07 2352 (date & time of injury)
I.E.D. (cause of injury)
RAD/ULNA FX-comp = Compound fracture of the radius and ulna (the two bones of the lower arm)
DNVI = Distal Neuro-Vascular Intact (the nerves and veins/arteries near the wrist are ok)
Needs ORIF = Open Reduction with Internal Fixation (the Doc believes a plate and screws should be surgically placed to set the bones)
Then a quick illustration of the fractures with name of the Doc: Lambert, LCDR, USN.

We both thought it was kind of cool but he had trouble seeing it, so we took the picture to send him later.

Zach remembers seeing the bones sticking out of his arm after the blast.

But, incredibly, he didn't notice his feet were gone until shortly before the flight to Germany.

His Uncle David, a member of Soldiers' Angels, had sent me to see him. After I read him an email from David and the rest of the family, the phone rang. It was a couple of the guys back in Fallujah. Zach chatted with them for a while and was reassured they were ok.

Not sure about you, but if I was laying there just hours after discovering I had no feet, I'm not sure I'd be asking about other people.

But that's how these guys are.

Throughout the course of the day, the phone kept ringing and Zach took calls from family members (he put me on with his Mom - whose concern he, by the way, tried to brush off by saying his injury was really "just a scratch") and more guys from downrange.

"What about the other people up here?" he asked at one point, meaning the other ICU patients. "What happened to them? Are they ok? Did they lose anyone when they got hurt?"

Together with my buddy Carol we'd been in and out, taking turns sitting with Zach and visiting with the Hauser family, so I was able to answer some of his questions.

There were light moments, too. We had a bit of comic relief trying to return his brother's phone call. His nurse, LT Martin, offered to help but he wouldn't let her. Between holding the phone, the phone card, and having one bad arm, it just wasn't happening. Finally, we decided I would read off the numbers and he would dial.

First, you have to dial the DSN access number, then the AT&T number, then the access code, then the person's number. What with his morphine and my weak eyes we kept screwing up. The first couple of times it was funny, but after the third or fourth failed attempt Zachary looked at me, exasperated, and said, "C'mon! We can do this!"

When a Marine says, "We can do this!", you get your sh!t together ;-)

After a late-night OR procedure to clean his wounds, Zach left the following day for Bethesda.

President George W. Bush speaks with U.S. Marine Cpl. Zachary Briseno of Fort Worth, Texas, at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2007, after being awarded a Purple Heart medal and citation. Cpl. Briseno, joined by members of his family from left, Briseno's mother, Mariana; brothers, Roman and Tony; and Briseno's girlfriend, Jennifer Rangel, is recovering from injuries sustained in Operation Iraqi Freedom. White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian.

After almost 3 weeks at Bethesda, Zachary arrived at Brooke Army Medical Center. And although San Antonio's not home, at least it's Texas!

Aunt Terry and Zach.

Apparently Aunt Terry's quite short and Zach always teased her by resting his arm on the top of her head. Since he's currently in a wheelchair, she's crouching down so he can still do it.

Zach's boy, Elijah.

Elijah is Zach's PR man. I was told he spent most of the time in Maryland running around the ward at Bethesda shaking people's hands and saying, "My Daddy's a HERO!!"

Zach with his baby, Aunt Terry, her son and daughter, Uncle David, and I guess that's a BAMC staff member.

Here's something Zach's nurse at Landstuhl wants you to know about him:

Cpl. Zachary Briseno lost both of his feet and risked his life for the safety and welfare of others. Only hours after his injuries, never did he complain about his pain or loss. In fact, he only had 2 things on his mind - talking to his family, and eating Pizza.

Through his sacrifice, our country will get through these difficult times and emerge stronger and safer.

Wishing you a speedy recovery and all the Pizzas in the world! It was an honor and a privilege to take care of you.

May God Bless you and your family.

Michelle Martin, RN/ARNP, MSN, USN

Zach, your attitude and spirit was an inspiration to us and captured our hearts. You've got great things ahead of you. Get well soon!

Update, October 2008: See Zach now.
Update, October 2009: Very nice interview with Zachary in 'Rockland County's Best' magazine.
Update, December 2010: House groundbreaking ceremony for Wounded Warrior Marine Cpl. Zach Briseno
Update, June 2011: Injured Veteran to Move into New Home
Update, July 2011: Amind a Sea of Red, White, and Blue, Zach Comes Home

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