Iraq Star, Inc., Helps Erase the Scars of War
The parched desert landscape must have been one of the few hometown reminders the Tucson, Arizona native could identify in the war-torn country that lay ahead of him. Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Goede, 25, was on a routine patrol in Iraq in June of 2004 when a bomb, buried in the road, exploded near his unarmored Humvee.
Fast action from a platoon medic who Goede credits with saving his life and sixteen surgeries in nine military medical facilities later, he recovered — his once mangled leg again functional and pieces of shrapnel removed from his body. The most visible traces of his injuries were largely cosmetic, such as minor scars caused by pebbles, dirt, and other debris embedded in his face, neck, lips, and eyelids.
Certainly, these scars were pale in comparison to Goede's other injuries, but they were, nevertheless, hard to ignore. With the help of Iraq Star, Inc., a non-profit foundation that matches volunteer, board-certified cosmetic surgeons with soldiers who have disfiguring wounds not treated by the military, these injuries, too, would soon be a thing of the past. Iraq Star matched Goede with a Hawaii-based surgeon who carefully removed the debris from his face during a three-hour procedure.
"The whole premise, the whole objective of Iraq Star," says founder Maggie Lockridge, an Air Force Corps veteran, registered nurse, and former owner of a plastic surgery recovery center in Beverly Hills, "is to not let these wars permanently disfigure young lives. And that's just what we're trying to prevent."
The Challenge Facing U.S. Military Hospitals
With over 28,000 U.S. soldiers wounded in the war in Iraq, and over 1,200 more wounded in the war in Afghanistan, the dedicated personnel of U.S. military hospitals are faced with a daunting task.
"I looked into it," said Lockridge, "and found out that the aesthetic procedures are not always being offered because it's not a high importance to them. They are more involved with getting these soldiers functional again."
The military currently does not pay for procedures to treat shrapnel wounds to the face, soft tissue damage that is not jeopardizing vital organs, or scarring caused by second degree burns.
"Maybe when the Iraq war is over, perhaps they would (provide these treatments)," says Lockridge, "but now is when these people are young, now is when they want to get out and socialize and date and get married, not five or ten years from now. That's why we're addressing this at this point."
The Plastic Surgery Community Unites
With her background in plastic surgery, and her contacts in the Beverly Hills medical community, Maggie Lockridge has set out to pick up where the military hospitals have left off.
"I thought, well, this is something that I can do, and I just went at it. I contacted all my surgeons from the Beverly Hills area, who all came on board."
Lockridge especially credits one renowned surgeon, Dr. Norman Leaf of Beverly Hills, with helping her recruit other surgeons. After volunteering his time to serve as the medical director of Iraq Star, Dr. Norman began emailing members of national plastic surgery organizations. Surgeon after surgeon began volunteering their services to help injured veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Iraq Star now consists of 142 board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeons in 28 states, all of whom are volunteers. And, according to Lockridge, more surgeons are volunteering each week.
"They've been really wonderful," Lockridge says." I cannot tell you how supportive and positive the response has been from the plastic surgery community. They have really stepped up to the plate in this particular instance, and they are really helping these boys."
Veterans and the General Public Reach Out
Even with the volunteer surgeons across the country, Iraq Star still has financial obligations, and contributions from the general public are sought to help provide treatment to soldiers, which can cost the foundation from $1,000 to $8,000 per surgery in travel expenses, surgery center fees, and other costs.
The foundation benefited greatly when Fox News ran a report three times in one day, helping to gather over $50,000 in private donations.
Some individuals who would like to see soldiers receive all the medical treatments available to help them and make the fullest possible recovery have given generously, like the retired Army major who donates $1,000 each month.
"A lot of veterans are supportive of this," says Lockridge. "They're grateful that these young people aren't being neglected."
Lockridge has attempted to reach out to the U.S. government for federal grants in order to help meet Iraq Star's expenses — even writing letters to every member of the Senate — but acknowledges that the government is treating serious injuries that should be addressed before aesthetics.
"That's why I took the aesthetic angle," she said, "because as far as I know there isn't anybody else doing it."
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