(02/27/13) - An artists' tools are helping change the lives of veterans who
return from war zones injured. New technologies are being paired with old
techniques to help make miracles for soldiers who return home with severe burns
and other types of disfiguring injuries.
With what's left of his left hand, Army vet Mario Lopez turns a canvas into art. While serving in Iraq in 2008, his vehicle was blown up by an improvised explosive device.
Now Mario is Dr. Sarra Cushen's canvas. She's custom painting his prosthetic ear.
"It's very helpful to have Mario's input on this because he does have such an artist's eye," Cushen says.
Eyes, ears and more are made at San Antonio Military Medical Center. The Surgeon General's office reports more than 2,500 military members have suffered traumatic burns in Iraq and Afghanistan. A study of U.S. military casualties over a six month period, found 39 percent of all troops' injuries were to the head, face and neck.
Col. Alan Sutton says when surgeons can't recreate features with bone and tissue, "then it's our turn to recreate realistic prosthesis."
In 18 milli-seconds a special camera captures a 3D picture of the face. Doctors can use it to help build new body parts. They can also make virtual replicas of patients' faces. But until it's perfected, Sutton says, stone casting is quicker and more detailed. He says it's been used for almost a century.
Mario says his new prosthetic ear looks and feels real. "It's just that one more normalcy you know. One more thing that makes me more normal."
The San Antonio Military Medical Center has teamed up with UCLA's Operation Mend. The program offers wounded warriors medical services, including plastic and reconstructive surgery at no cost to the vets. Operation mend pays for what their military medical insurance doesn't cover, which averages out to about $500,000 per patient. For more information, visit http://operationmend.ucla.edu/
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