Walter Reed team gives new legs to two Romanian soldiers

By STEVE MRAZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 10, 2006

LANDSTUHL, Germany — Two Romanian soldiers are walking again thanks to an amputee care team flown in from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to treat them.

Walter Reed’s amputation clinic chief, chief prosthetist and a physical therapist arrived at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center on Monday afternoon. Soon after, the team began working to outfit the Romanian soldiers with prosthetic legs.

“Basically, we came here to help them get up, literally, on their feet — prosthetic feet and their own feet,” said Col. Jeffrey Gambel, chief of Walter Reed’s amputation clinic and a physical medicine rehabilitation doctor. “Also, to have them make some functional progress towards walking using assisted devices and so forth.”

By Tuesday, the Romanian soldiers were taking their first steps since they were wounded in a June 20 explosion near Kandahar, Afghanistan. Romanian army Sgt. Valerica Slaniceanu was driving an armored personnel carrier when it struck a mine. The 28-year-old lost his left leg to injuries in the blast, and Romanian army Sgt. Laurentiu Serban had to have his right leg amputated. The two men are sharing a hospital room at Landstuhl.

Seeing the Romanians take their first steps with their prosthetic legs was a great moment, Gambel said.

“Even though these guys weren’t effusive and saying ‘Oh my God’ and ‘Thank you,’ obviously there was a gleam in their eye,” he said.

On Wednesday morning, Slaniceanu was walking on his prosthetic leg in his hospital room. He paced back and forth with the help of support bars. He even managed to take a few steps backward, albeit gingerly.

“I feel reborn,” he said. “I feel like a child.”

The event marks the first time an amputee care team from Walter Reed has traveled to Landstuhl to treat patients. Normally, U.S. troops are taken from Landstuhl to Walter Reed to receive prosthetic limbs and undergo rehabilitation.

Since the wounded soldiers are Romanian, the amputee care team came to Landstuhl to help them before they head home to the eastern European nation.

“So far, they’re doing real well,” said Zach Harvey, chief prosthetist at Walter Reed. “They exceeded my expectations.”

Romanian Army Sgt. Valerica Slaniceanu paces on his new prosthetic leg Wednesday morning at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

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