Iraq and Afghanistan wars spur medical advances for soldiers

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U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Leroy Petry, who lost a limb in a grenade attack, spoke at a recent University of Southern California (USC) health care forum. The Medal of Honor winner reflected on his injury and recovery.

In the midst of heavy fire, an enemy grenade rolled between Petry and two other Army Rangers. Petry grabbed the weapon and threw it as it exploded; that action cost him his right hand.

Three-and-a-half years later, in front of an audience at USC, he demonstrated his prosthetic hand. The hand functions almost as if it were real, due to advances in military medical care.

"It's phenomenal care," Petry said. "Now there's a lot more surviving and a lot more support, and I'm happy and humbled over that."

Petry's orthopedic surgeon, Dr. James Ficke, said the combat wounds that today's troops endure have placed the military on the front lines of medical breakthroughs. The U.S. Army surgeon's treatment helped Petry resume active duty. At the forum, Ficke described the near-human sensitivity of Petry's prosthetic hand.

"That particular hand has several degrees of freedom so he can do, independently, an arm movement, a wrist movement or a finger movement," Ficke said.

Petry can also move all three in unison.

Such innovations are making life easier for injured soldiers, so many of them, like Petry, may remain on active duty. These days, Petry works as a liaison to wounded veterans.

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