March 26, 2008

Virginia Guard Soldier helps save Iraqi girl’s arm

By Maj. Phil Wentworth
2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry

Capt. Jon Brillhart of the Virginia National Guard's 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry treats the burn injury of an Iraqi child in November, 2007. Months later, Brillhart was able to evaluate the treatment and found the girl's army had completely healed. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Peacock, 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry) 

SOUTHWEST ASIA — Medical care provided by a Virginia Army National Guard Soldier in Iraq was a major factor in a preventing an infection that could have cost a young girl her arm. Capt. Jon Brillhart, a physician’s assistant assigned to the Virginia National Guard’s Portsmouth-based 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry, treated an Iraqi Bedouin girl’s injuries in late 2007 and in mid-March was able to evaluate her injuries and determine she had recovered from the burn injury to her arm.

In November 2007, Soldiers from 2nd Squadron came across an Iraqi Bedouin family with a daughter, Fatma, with severe burns to her right arm and hand. From what the Soldiers could learn, the child had evidently fallen into the family’s cooking fire and caught herself with her right arm. 

The Soldiers contacted Brillhart, a native of Roanoke, and he came to Fatma’s location so he could make an assessment. He determined that the child’s arm would become infected and have to be removed without immediate treatment. Brillhart’s treatment consisted of debridement of the eschar, or removal of the dead skin, a tedious and extremely painful process. 

“Fatma never flinched,” Brillhart said. “She is an extremely brave little girl.”

Unfortunately the family moved on, as Bedouins do, and the unit lost contact with Fatma and her family. For several months the unit had no clue as to what the end result was for her arm. Brillhart said he was afraid that he had not had time to provide adequate treatment and that Fatma’s arm would ultimately get infected and have to be removed.

Recently Fatma’s family moved back into the unit’s area of operation in Iraq and made contact with members of the squadron. Brillhart inspected her injuries, and it was evident that her arm had healed completely. Except for some slight scaring no evidence of the burn injury could be observed. 

“I  am thankful for the opportunity to positively impact this little girl’s life and family, and I know the rest of the Soldiers in the squadron feel the same as I do,” Brillhart said.

The Virginia Army National Guard’s 2nd Squardon, 183rd Cavalry arrived in Kuwait in early October 2007 with the mission of acting as a security force in their area of operations. The squadron is one of a very few units that operate daily on both sides of the border in both northern Kuwait and southern Iraq.

As part of their security force mission, the squadron provides an area response force, a quick reaction rorce for coalition base camps, conducts convoy vehicle searches and route security and reconnaissance in Southern Iraq to prevent interdiction of convoy routes. Approximately 500 Soldiers are assigned to the squadron with most coming from the Tidewater Virginia region. The unit is expected to return in late spring 2008.

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