When John Rectenwald felt like giving back to the community, he opted not to volunteer at a local soup kitchen or a community homeless shelter. Instead, he flew to Germany to treat injured American soldiers.
Rectenwald, a vascular surgeon at the University’s Cardiovascular Center, was one of 51 members of the Society of Vascular Surgery who traveled to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center at Ramstein Air Base in Germany to treat wounded soldiers who had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Society of Vascular Surgery sent an e-mail about one year ago asking vascular surgeons to volunteer at the medical military center because the military had a shortage of surgeons. Rectenwald said he decided to go to help soldiers who were fighting for their country.
“I think whether you believe in the foreign policies we have or not, these soldiers out there that are fighting are young, and they’re serving their country,” Rectenwald said. “I just think if I have a skill that may help them I feel like I should do that.”
From May 23 to June 7, Rectenwald spent 15-hours a day alongside military physicians in an operating room helping to repair injuries on soldiers’ arms and legs.
He said he mostly treated soldiers with blast injuries and gunshot wounds.
“With all the body armor that you’re wearing the abdomen and chest is protected so the soldiers aren’t getting traditional injuries like they had in other wars,” he said.
Though Rectenwald had seen gunshot wounds while working at the University Hospital’s trauma center, he said he had never treated so many people with bullet injuries at one time.
“We just don’t get as many gun shots wounds at the University of Michigan in probably two or three months that we got there in a week,” he said.
While Rectenwald operated on 15 soldiers in the two weeks he was there, he said that eight to 12 new causalities arrived every day.
After the soldiers were stabilized, they were transported to the United States to be treated in places like the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C.
Rectenwald said the military used to build large hospitals in the countries where wars was occurring. Now, the army builds smaller hospitals to stabilize injured soldiers before sending them to fully-equipped medical centers like Landstuhl in Germany.
“It’s more economical rather than having to ship things all the way to the United States from Afghanistan,” Rectenwald said.
Although he didn’t learn any new surgical techniques, Rectenwald said he learned how well the physicians and nurses treat the injured soldiers.
“Everybody that takes care of these kids is very dedicated to giving them the best care possible,” he said, adding that the medical system is very organized.
“A soldier can be wounded in the battlefield of Afghanistan and then three days later be at Walter Reed having had three or four operations,” he said.
Rectenwald said the best part of the experience was helping to save soldiers who were risking their lives for their country.
“The best part for me going there was feeling like I was actually helping somebody,” he said. “Helping these soldiers, I feel like I actually contributed to their care.”