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Italian Carabinieri members Antonio Altavilla, left, and Cosimo Visconti, center, visit with staff members at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany on Thursday, a little more than a year after the soldiers were admitted to the hospital with critical injuries.
Italian Carabinieri members Antonio Altavilla, left, and Cosimo Visconti, center, visit with staff members at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany on Thursday, a little more than a year after the soldiers were admitted to the hospital with critical injuries. (Ben Murray / S&S)

LANDSTUHL, Germany — When Italian Carabinieri member Antonio Altavilla came to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in November 2003, doctors had doubts that he would leave alive.

Critically wounded during a suicide bomb attack in Nasiriyah, Iraq, which killed 17 of his comrades, Altavilla’s lungs and liver were badly injured, and he was bleeding internally.

“We thought at least three or four times that he wasn't going to make it,” said Col. Tyler Putnam, Chief of General and Specialty Surgery at Landstuhl. “Literally for a month it was nip and tuck. [He had] the highest injury severity score you can have.”

Likewise, Cosimo Visconti, another Carabinieri injured in the attack, could have spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

But Altavilla and Visconti both walked into Landstuhl with smiles on their faces Thursday in what hospital officials said was the first-ever return visit by foreign soldiers treated at the American facility. The two Italians, fully recovered from their injuries, wanted to personally thank the doctors and “see the faces of the people who helped him,” Altavilla said through an interpreter.

The two men walked through several wings of the hospital, shaking hands with staff members and meeting people from the intensive care unit, which treated them when they first arrived.

The visit was a rare opportunity for hospital staff to see the results of their work, Putnam said, because Landstuhl often acts as a way station for critical patients being moved to stateside hospitals.

“It’s incredible,” he said. “It’s a great morale booster.”

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