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Reported February 8, 2013

Healing Heroes: New Faces for Vets

SAN ANTONIO, Tex. (Ivanhoe Newswire)  -- From burns to bullets to bomb blasts, thousands of US troops have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan with devastating injuries that leave them disfigured. To give the wounded warriors a better quality of life and sense of normalcy, experts are using advanced technology and art. 

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.

“I got burned over 54 percent of my body, lost an arm because they had to pull me out,” wounded warrior, Mario Lopez, told Ivanhoe.

Since the injuries, he’s done many pieces.

Now, Mario is Dr.  Sarra Cushen’s canvas.

“She’s an artist herself,” Lopez said.

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,” Dr. Sarra Cushen at SAMMC told Ivanhoe.

Eyes, ears, and more are made here at San Antonio Military Medical Center. 

“When you catch on fire, unfortunately, things that stick out tend to get burned off,” Colonel Alan Sutton, Maxillofacial Prosthetics Director at SAMMC, told Ivanhoe.

The US Surgeon General’s Office reports more than 25-hundred military members have suffered traumatic burns in Iraq and Afghanistan. A study  of US military casualties over a six month period, found 39-percent of all troops’ injuries were to the head, face, and neck.

Colonel Alan Sutton says when surgeons can’t recreate features with bone and tissue, “Then it’s our turn to recreate realistic prosthesis out of plastics and silicones.”

In 18 milli-seconds this camera captures a 3D picture of the face. Doctors can use it to help build new body parts.

“Turn that into a plastic replica or a wax replica,” Col. Sutton said.

Sutton says right now some marines’ pictures are being taken with the camera before they’re deployed.

If any suffer an injury from the neck up “at least have a virtual copy of what they were like beforehand,” Col. Sutton said.

Doctors can also make virtual replicas of patients’ faces like this.

“So, this is the future here,” Col. Sutton explained.

Until it’s perfected, Sutton tells us stone casting is quicker and more detailed. He says it’s been used for almost a century.  American sculptor Anne Ladd used a similar technique to make tin masks for French soldiers wounded in World War I. These before and after pictures show the dramatic results of ladd’s work. Like the prosthetics of today, the masks were custom painted.

Dr. Cushen’s masterpiece is now complete. Mario says his new prosthetic ear looks and feels real, a small piece of silicone that has a big impact.

“It’s just that one more normalcy you know, one more thing that makes me more normal,” Lopez concluded.

It’s medical technology with a touch of art that this painter can appreciate.

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. Officials tell us that averages out to about 500-thousand dollars per patient. 

More Information

Click here for additional research on Healing Heroes: New Faces for Vets

Click here for Ivanhoe's full-length interview with Col. Alan Sutton

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Andrew Mcintosh at amcintosh@ivanhoe.com

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