Michael Yon, Soldiers Angels, and the incredible journey of Soldier X

Last July, I was interviewing Michael Yon live from Afghanistan when a gunshot went off, and Michael had to conclude the call quickly.  That turns out to be the accidental shooting that Michael describes in his post today, a shooting that nearly took the life of a British soldier.  Instead, the soldier is now recuperating, thanks to the innovative Novalung, the American and British military commands, Soldiers Angels, and Yon himself:

Soldier X had been shot in the abdomen and chest, losing his right lung and damaging his liver, according to the US military Stars And Stripes newspaper. Another American military report said his blood supply was replaced more than ten times, and that he was transfused with 75 units of blood and another 75 units of platelets.

He was alive – but only just. He needed specialist equipment to do what his lungs could not: provide oxygen to his blood and remove the carbon dioxide built up in its passage through his body. He needed an artificial lung and intensive care within hours. Such equipment was available at hospitals in Britain, nearly 4,000 miles away, but Soldier X would almost certainly die on the long flight.

He needed a portable, low-pressure artificial lung and the Americans offered to help. But the bureaucracy of moving from the British to the American military system meant that valuable time was being lost. …

Contacted by a quick-thinking British doctor at Camp Bastion, Mr Yon sent an urgent email to a group of American civilian volunteers called Soldiers’ Angels near Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where most American casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan are initially sent.

The volunteers, founded by the great-niece of General George S. Patton, alerted the US Army’s nearby Landstuhl Regional Medical Center’s Acute Lung Rescue Team, which specialises in going straight to the aid of soldiers with severe lung problems.

And within an hour, the team was in touch with doctors at the nearby University of Regensberg who had access to a revolutionary portable artificial lung called a Novalung. The still experimental German-made machine takes over much of the job of circulating blood, filling it with oxygen and filtering out the carbon dioxide without the use of the mechanical pumps in the older Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machines, which have been known to cause damage to a patient by forcing the blood around the body.

Be sure to read the rest of the remarkable story.  When I read the post, I immediately recalled the shooting incident during our July 24th interview and asked Michael to confirm.  In an e-mail, he did, saying that he knew he’d been on the phone at the time but couldn’t recall with whom.  I’m embedding the interview into this post just to close the loop on the story.

Update: A friend of mine at Soldiers Angels says that the story of their involvement got “a little confused.” While they did help do coordination in this case, they didn’t have anything to do with securing the Novalung. Founder Patti Patton-Baden says on her Facebook page that “we’re good, but we’re not that good yet.” They’re more than good enough, take it from me.

Michael Yon delivers independent reports from the battlefields of the war on terror, which are entirely reader-supported. Please be sure to visit his site to contribute to that effort in order to keep us abreast of the realities on the ground. At the moment, Michael has a series of photo essays that are just outstanding, so don’t miss them.