11 May 2010

Technically dead for 15 minutes after being wounded, Soldier returns to unit 5 months later

Capt. Joshua A. Mantz and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kan. Five months after he was revived, Captain Mantz returned to his unit in Iraq to finish a tour of platoon command, and he is preparing to deploy again, most likely early next year. Department of Defense photo by Cherie Cullen.

“I could feel myself starting to die, and I became desperate in my struggle to stay conscious. I started to repeat three names in my head over and over again: My mom, my sister Melissa, and my sister Kendra. For the last 60 seconds of my life, I rapidly repeated these three names in my head. They helped me hold on a little longer and knew I had to fight for them. But the feeling then crept to my chest, and I knew I was done. I calmly said my last thought, took my last breath, and died.”

- Capt. Joshua A. Mantz

April, 2007. Captain Mantz was patrolling with his Scout Platoon near Sadr City, Iraq when they were targeted by an enemy sniper using high-powered, armor-piercing rounds.

A round entered through the left arm of Staff Sgt. Marlon B. Harper, 34, of Baltimore, and exited through his chest, but only after severing his aorta and delivering a mortal wound.

The force and heat of the round caused the bullet to fuse with Sergeant Harper’s body armor. A chunk of bullet and melted armor plate the size of a human fist ricocheted into Captain Mantz’s upper right thigh, severing his femoral artery, another of the deadliest combat wounds possible.

But first the adrenalin of combat kicked in.

“I didn’t know that I was shot,” Captain Mantz said. “I was simply confused and knew that something was wrong. I experienced tunnel vision, as my attention immediately focused on the face of Staff Sergeant Marlon Harper. I looked into his eyes with crystal clarity and watched as his lifeless body fell to the ground. I experienced auditory distortion, in that I could hear nothing except for the muted shot of the sniper round, and hear my own voice call for my medic. I also experienced slow-motion time. I could feel my body absorb the shock of the round as it hit my body. I could feel myself moving backwards.”

Captain Mantz dragged Sergeant Harper out of the way and began to perform first aid on him while calling for assistance. “When my medic arrived, no more than 15 seconds later, I briefly passed out,” Captain Mantz said. “I regained consciousness when my men carried me into the nearest Bradley Fighting Vehicle and drove to FOB Loyalty,” the forward operating base that was their home in Baghdad.

During the 10-minute ride, the medic cinched-up a tourniquet and helped Captain Mantz stay conscious. “But I had to fight for every breath that I took,” Captain Mantz said.

The convoy was met by a team of Army medical personnel who within seconds were administering CPR and electronic defibrillation.

The medical team working on Captain Mantz did not quit. “I don’t know what possessed the brigade surgeon and his team to continue working on a dead guy for 15 straight minutes – many doctors will ‘call it’ after 6 minutes because that’s usually the point at which brain damage sets in – but they kept going,” Captain Mantz said.

When they restored a faint pulse, Captain Mantz was loaded onto a Black Hawk helicopter for a short flight into the Green Zone and more advanced emergency care. There, the military hospital team went through nearly 30 units of blood during a complicated vascular surgery. Blood was in short supply, and the medical team pulled soldiers into the surgery ward, drawing blood straight from their arms and putting it right into Captain Mantz. (He was ordered to take tests for a year to check for blood infections or disorders from the unprocessed transfusions, and he is fine.)

“Our military surgeons are gods in their profession,” he said. “With the proper resources, they can – and do – bring soldiers back to life against impossible odds.”

When he was stabilized, Captain Mantz was flown first to the larger military hospital at Balad, Iraq, north of Baghdad, and then to the military facility in Landstuhl, Germany, where it was determined that he had suffered no brain damage.

After 5 months of recovery at Walter Reed - which he described as “a utopia” of Army medical care - Mantz returned to his unit in Iraq.

Read the rest of this amazing story - the 2007 reunion with his Soldiers back in Baghdad, his current journey to Washington where he will visit the caregivers at Walter Reed, and his quest to help others by sharing his story.

During a recent counseling session for spouses and parents of those killed in combat Captain Mantz told the group, “Your experiences are valuable in ways you may not realize yet. I strongly encourage you to talk about them. You’ll never know who you’re going to help.”

Update: Great interview with Captain Mantz at CNN.

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