KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Among the most important members of any combat unit is the medic. A member of an elite Afghan Commando unit recently learned this first hand.
Staff Sgt. Amrullah Nabiullah, with the 3rd Commando Kandak, was participating in a cordon and search in Helmand province when insurgents engaged him and his unit with small-arms fire. Amrullah and two other Commandos took cover behind a short wall on a rooftop of a Commando stronghold. While providing suppressive fire for the maneuvering ground elements, an insurgent sniper fired a single round, striking Amrullah in the left cheek, exiting the back of his head.
“A gunshot wound to the head on the battlefield is usually a death sentence,” explained a Special Forces surgeon who has been caring for Amrullah since the incident, “but our guy continues to beat the odds.”
While many of Amrullah’s fellow comrades attribute his escape from death nothing short of a miracle, the surgeon insists it has more to do with the advanced skills and efforts of the two medics who initially cared for him during the firefight.
“Amrullah only survived because of the immediate care he received on the battlefield that day,” said the surgeon. “His continued improvement truly is a testimony to the care and advocating skills of the medics.”
One of those medics later explained how he heard of a Commando killed in action during the firefight and that he arrived in time to see the casualty being lowered from the rooftop position.
“As soon as Amrullah was off the roof we began working on him,” the medic explained. “We assessed his head and face wound, but honestly, we weren’t holding out hope.”
Despite the situation, the medics treated Amrullah by applying pressure dressings and monitoring his vital signs.
The initial readings taken were weak and faded as oxygen failed to travel to the vital organs.
“His mental status was unresponsive and his eyes were fixed,” explained the medic. “We were really worried about swelling on the brain.”
Keeping a patient with a head injury oxygenated prevents vessels in the brain from expanding and thus increasing swelling on the brain. To mitigate this, the medics inserted a nasal-pharyngeal airway, a silicone tube used to secure an airway.
After stabilizing the casualty, a medevac was requested.
“Frankly, we were surprised he made it to the point of stabilization, considering the extent of his wounds,” explained the medic We immediately called for a helicopter to evacuate him but due to the type of injury and unknown extent of his brain injuries, we insisted on one of us accompanying him, to afford him the best chance of survival.”
Upon arrival to the hospital in Kandahar, Amrullah was greeted by the Commando hierarchy and the Special Forces surgeon. Amrullah was received by a highly-trained medical staff that began treatment, which included a computerized tomography scan to learn the degree of brain damage.
Based on the CT scan results, a meeting was held to discuss the likelihood of Amrullah’s survival and his quality of life if he did. The results indicated his quality of life would be minimal to non-existent because of the amount of brain and brain stem damage. He was classified as “expectant,” a term reserved for patients expected to die.
Amrullah was taken off artificial life support and placed in the intensive care unit. His bed was turned toward Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest site of Islam. The commando command staff was informed of Amrullah’s prognosis and funeral preparations began.
At 3 a.m. the next morning Amrullah awoke, surprising hospital staff. Although unable to talk due to the breathing tube in his throat, he was able to follow commands, surpassing all expectations.
“He woke when I called his name,” said the Special Forces surgeon, astonishment reflecting in his eyes. “He managed a half-smile when I told him I was from Special Forces and his friends were thinking about him. He also smiled when I asked if his nickname was ‘The Godfather.’
“He isn’t completely out of the woods yet, but he can see the light between the trees,” the surgeon added. “He has a long road ahead but at least he is still moving in the right direction.”
Amrullah will remain in the hospital until he achieves a full recovery, which includes physical therapy.