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By Daniel J. Vance

Let us never forget the brave men and women serving our country.

Early morning December 27, 2003, 23-year-old Lt. Stephen Rice and other Illinois National Guard members were called to respond to a “sister” unit under fire in downtown Baghdad.

“They needed help with first aid,” said Rice from his home in Silver Spring, Maryland. “I saw wounded people and called for a helicopter. I started running down the road to a wounded man when an improvised explosive device went off.”

When he hit the ground his foot already looked like a “pound of hamburger,” he said. Shrapnel had ripped through his ankle, quadriceps and left side.

What happened next was chaos. He said, “I stayed awake and still wanted to stay in the fight. I saw my soldiers were reacting well. So I started relaxing as much as possible and ended up going into shock. My soldiers came up and started running an IV on me. I remember telling them a helicopter wouldn't be coming because it was a bad area for helicopter extraction. So they ended up splinting my leg and driving me to the hospital.”

Doctors in Germany literally saved his life. In January 2004 he was transferred to Walter Reed Medical Center, where he would spend much of the next year. In time, surgeons would fuse his ankle and big toe. Then in October 2004, he began considering a leg amputation below his left knee.

“My peers really came to my aid,” he said. “It was a tough decision. I talked with surgeons and prosthetists. I approached my surgeon in December before Christmas and he was hesitant to do it at first, but in January 2005 I had the leg taken off.”

After going through with the decision, he decided he wouldn't spend time second guessing. Surprising himself, he felt better almost immediately after waking from surgery.

“This may sound weird, but I knew things would be all right,” he said. “I was with friends and family after the surgery. And after the first fitting of my prosthesis, I knew it would be all good from there on, so I could get back to the person I used to be.”

He advises other soldiers returning home injured to remember that many Americans support them, and to make an informed decision if considering amputation. Currently, Rice works for the federal government.

For more, see danieljvance.com. [This column made possible by a grant from Blue Valley Sod, www.bluevalleysod.com]