Hostage had surgery for gunshot wound while in captivity
May 5, 2004
LANDSTUHL, Germany — Eight days after American Thomas Hamill was captured, Iraqi physicians put him under general anesthesia and operated on the gunshot wound in his right arm, a Landstuhl Regional Medical Center doctor said Tuesday.
Air Force Maj. Kerry Jepsen, an orthopedic surgeon, said the Iraqi doctors removed dead tissue and damaged muscle and bone from Hamill’s arm. They then gave Hamill antibiotics and applied clean bandages to the wound daily.
“Had he not received the care he did … there would have been more complications for him,” Jepsen said during a press conference at the hospital.
Insurgents captured Hamill, 43, of Macon, Miss., on April 9, after they attacked the convoy in which he was riding. The Kellogg, Brown & Root truck driver escaped Sunday from the small house where he was being held and ran toward a group of American GIs, who picked him up. He was flown to the hospital in Germany on Monday.
The insurgents also hit Hamill on the right side of his head with a rifle butt, and a small bruise still shows, Jepsen said.
Responding to a barrage of media requests, Hamill appeared on a hospital balcony Tuesday and waved to the press with his bandaged right arm.
“I am very glad to be back on an American installation,” Hamill said. “I am looking forward to returning to America. First and foremost, I would like to thank the American public for their support of all those deployed in the Middle East. Please keep your thoughts and prayers for those who are still there.”
Hamill’s wife, Kellie, was to meet him on Wednesday at the hospital, a spokeswoman said.
Hamill said he was “feeling well.” Jepsen said Hamill had asked for a burger, Coke and fries for dinner Monday.
Hamill told Jepsen he “recalls a pop, a blast and motion and sound from his [vehicle] door and a burning in his forearm,” after the attack, Jepsen said. “He controlled the bleeding with a pair of socks he had on the dashboard.”
Doctors are treating Hamill with antibiotics and regular bandage changes. After Hamill returns to the United States in a few days, he will need reconstructive surgery. It will take about three months for the additional surgery and rehabilitation, but he shouldn’t lose any function in his arm, Jepsen said.
Military and medical personnel who specialize in treating former hostages are helping Hamill deal with the circumstances of his captivity, Jepsen said. Some of the specialists will accompany him on the trip home.
Hamill told Jepsen his captors had moved him to new hiding places nearly every day. On his last night, he was in a small, dirt-floored room. He was let out once a day before sunrise to go to the bathroom.
Hamill hadn’t slept much the night before he escaped because mosquitoes were biting him, Jepsen said. When Hamill heard the American diesel military vehicles passing the house, he looked out the door and couldn’t see the guard. He pushed open the lightly secured door, squeezed out and ran toward the troops.
“To gain his freedom and with very dedicated resolve he said ‘they’re going to have to catch me and bring me back but I’m going to make it to the convoy,’ and that’s what he did,” Jepsen said.