In this Dec. 14, 2011 photo, Dr. Ken Lee performs acupuncture on Gus Sorenson, a paralyzed patient at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center. Lee was nearly killed by a suicide bomb attack in Iraq in 2004. Now Wisconsin’s National Guard’s chief medical officer, he is using his unique experience _ as a doctor, patient and combat veteran _ to call attention to the effects of combat trauma that will be with veterans for years to come. (AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger) By Todd Richmond
Associated Press / December 22, 2011
The attack in Baghdad nearly killed the Wisconsin National Guard’s chief medical officer, leaving him with a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder so severe that the slightest provocation sent him into a furniture-smashing rage — even as he worked to diagnose and heal fellow veterans back home.
Lee eventually learned to live with his nightmares. Now as the last American troops leave Iraq, he’s using his unique experience — as a doctor, patient and combat veteran — to wage a new battle to call attention to the effects of combat trauma that will be with veterans for years to come.
“I can tell my son that his dad was right in the middle of it,” Lee said. “I was part of the process to make it better.”
Lee, 46, emigrated from South Korea with his family when he was a child. After graduating from medical school in Milwaukee, he became a physician in the Wisconsin National Guard and landed a job with the Department of Veterans Affairs, working as a spinal cord specialist in Milwaukee.
He had just been promoted to head of spinal cord treatment when he got the call in November 2003 to head to Iraq. He left his wife and two young children and shipped out in command of Company B of the 118th Medical Battalion.
Lee treated high-value U.S. prisoners that included Saddam Hussein. He visited the deposed dictator twice to treat a sore wrist. Lee described Hussein as an educated, pleasant man who spoke decent English — but probably understood more than he let on.
The worst moments came during the Fallujah offensive as exhausted medics tried to save badly wounded Marines.
“We’re seeing death in front of us,” he said. “We kept absorbing it until it wasn’t healthy. Some stopped eating. Some cried. I would lock myself in my room. I couldn’t get hold of this feeling of despair.”
Then, in September 2004, Lee made the mistake that changed his life.
He was leading a convoy when he spotted soldiers removing a bomb up ahead. Rather than speeding around them, Lee felt safe enough to stop the vehicles, climb out and help guard the rear.
Suddenly, he heard the screech of rubber on pavement. A Buick was bearing down on them. As Lee raised his rifle, the driver detonated his explosives. An orange ball of flame rolled toward him in slow motion and knocked him backward under a car.
When Lee came to, the world was red. His head was split open, and blood was pouring into his eyes. Medics performed life-saving surgery.Continued…