Jason Redman is a Navy SEAL who was wounded in Iraq in 2007 and faced a years long rehabilitation. As he was recovering, he founded the non-profit organization Wounded Wear to aid other military personnel injured in battle.
While Lt. Redman was in Bethesda Naval Hospital, he was awarded the Purple Heart by then Rear Admiral Joseph Kernan. In this second part of his interview with InsideSurgery.com, Lt. Redman gives us details of his surgical reconstruction and rehabilitation.
Once you were back in the States and stabilized, you needed massive reconstructive surgery to rebuild your face. Can you describe the general strategy employed by your plastic surgeons in rebuilding your facial structures?
The strategy to rebuild my face was structure and support first and then cosmetic.
I needed bone, due to the massive amount I was missing from the gunshot wound. Since the facial structure operates as a buttress system and I was missing one of my buttresses with the loss of the zygomatic arch, that was their first plan, to bone graft bone.
Bethesda initially planned to take bone from my hip and graft it into my face, but the more I researched the more I learned that there were better procedures that offered longer term success.
After much hostile negotiations, I went and got a second opinion from a civilian doctor who informed me of a fibular free flap operation and directed me to Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez out of Shock Trauma (in Baltimore.)
During your surgical rehab, did you require a PEG tube for feeding and a tracheostomy?
Yes. Had a peg tube for about 2 months and I wore the trach for 7 months and two days.
What complications and setbacks did you experience?
I continued to have problems with my eye after the initial free flap operation. My eye was constantly in pain and I had severe double vision, which gave me bad headaches. I began to wear an eye patch to reduce the double vision and eye strain.
I also had numerous infections that led to a difficult reconstruction cosmetically because they kept having to cut away the free flap tissue.
I once spent almost 14 days in the hospital on heavy antibiotics running through an irrigation system through my free flap and cartilage. Dr. Robert Walton wrote a journal article about this. In the end, I needed three free flap operations to build my nose.
How bad was the postoperative pain?
I used narcotics only.
Can you give us some details as to how was your left arm repaired?
The elbow quickly starting producing major heterotopic ossification causing my elbow to be frozen in place, by a big brick of bone. A great doctor named Dr. Andy Eglseder, out of Baltimore Shock Trauma, basically chiseled me a new elbow and took pieces of the heterotopic ossification and used them to bone graft the missing bone in my humeral shaft.
I have limited range of motion in both flexion and extension. There is also significant ulnar nerve damage that affects my hand and fingers.
At onetime, I went around talking with Dr. Eglseder, Navy doctors, a famous Sports medicine doctor and the head hand/arm doctor at Duke about trying to get more motion. They all unanimously agreed, that what I have now is nothing short of miraculous, and any additional surgery would more likely result in a loss than a gain.
So, I accepted at that point I would never operate as a SEAL again.
Did your facial injury affect your sense of smell?
Yes. I have pretty much lost my sense of smell. Something has to be very strong for me to smell it. People donâ€™t think about the little things that change with these injuries.
You have mentioned that at one point in your rehab your doctors were having trouble getting on the same page, which you feel delayed your recovery. Can you elaborate on that?
When my nose was being constructed, there were two doctors who worked together. While they were working on me, they began to have a falling out, and disagreed on virtually everything about my care.
Once, (one of) the doctors tried to tell me to go home when I had a very obvious infection post surgery. (The other doctor) admitted me that afternoon and put me on strong antibiotics to try and save what they had done so far. I ended up having Pseudomonas, Staph, and MRSA. (The first surgeon) lost touch with what it meant to be a doctor and caretaker and became absorbed with the four inches of real estate in the middle of a person’s face. I never worked with him again after that.
Ultimately, I let Dr. Robert Walton finish the surgeries and had a very talented Navy surgeon, Dr. Alan Lim, finish the cosmetic surgeries.
How many total surgeries have you had? Is your reconstruction and rehab finished?
37 surgeries. I am done for now. I will need a elbow replacement in the future.
What is the most bothersome disability you have remaining from your injuries?
I wish there was more I could do with my arm. When I try and do a lot with it, it usually aches for days. I try and work out, but I struggle sometimes with exercises that will work my chest and damaged arm due to the weakness and loss of range of motion.
I wish someone had made a list of exercise I could do to work my upper body, especially the damaged side without doing more damage. I just do as much as I can now.
How supportive was the SEAL community during your recovery?
The community has been very supportive. We feel very fortunate to be part of this community. They have taken care of me and my family. It is a very small close knit community.
I worry about the guys that come back wounded that do not have that same kind of support system, such as our young AD Army and USMC infantrymen.
Was there anything about your SEAL training that you feel translated into helping you recover?
Yes, I believe that mySEAL training helped keep me alive and it fostered a sense a tenacity about my recovery, to never complain, and always drive forward in a positive manner. I think many of our wounded warriors share this mentality.
Are you still on active duty or did you retire from the SEALs?
I am still active duty.