Framework

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Marine Lance Cpl. Jorge Ortiz, 19, of Fresno, who was critically injured in an explosion in Afghanistan, rests at the Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Palo Alto, where physicians and therapists take a team approach to care for those who have suffered catastrophic injuries.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Ortiz gazes into a mirror in the physical therapy room at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Palo Alto, one of four such specialized trauma centers nationwide. A combat photographer, he was taking pictures of a captured weapons cache in Sangin, Afghanistan, on Jan. 15 when he stepped on a buried explosive device.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Dr. Ted Scott, the attending physician at the Palo Alto hospital's polytrauma unit, gives Ortiz a quick checkup. The explosion that changed his life ripped off his legs above the knees and snapped off four fingers on his left hand and the thumb on his right hand.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Ortiz, who is known among the hospital's medical personnel for his determination, pauses for a moment during an occupational therapy sesssion. When other patients are taken on outings, Ortiz prefers to stay and work on his memory and coordination therapy.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Ortiz, left, and Marine Cpl. Farrell Gilliam, 22, of Ridgecrest, a machine-gunner who served in his regiment and was wounded in an explosion a week before him, race their wheelchairs through the halls at the Veterans Affairs trauma center in Palo Alto.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Gilliam, manuevering from a bed in the physical therapy unit into his wheelchair, had stepped on a buried bomb. The blast took off both legs and severely damaged his right arm. He also suffered a severe abdominal injury.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Gilliam holds a portrait of himself while he sits in his wheelchair at the VA hospital. He is set to be transferred to the Center for the Intrepid, a rehabilitation facility specializing in amputees and burn victims adjacent to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Gilliam gets a checkup from Dr. Ted Scott in the physical therapy room. The Palo Alto hospital has a staff of medical specialists and an agreement with nearby Stanford University School of Medicine. There are specialists in amputation, auditory impairments, blindness, spinal cord injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Gilliam's brother, Daniel Lorente, shows several pages of the Marine's journal and his Purple Heart on his bed at the VA hospital. Lorente, 27, has put his plans to go to law school on hold to help his brother. He is living in a free military facility across the street from the hospital so he can be close and provide moral support to Gilliam.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

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Caring for grievously wounded troops

The Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Palo Alto is the only VA facility of its kind on the West Coast. There are specialists in amputation, auditory impairments, blindness, spinal cord injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions.

The emergence of the polytrauma unit approach by the VA and Department of Defense in 2005 and 2006 was a recognition that modern battlefield injuries — particularly those from bomb blasts — require a team approach from physicians and therapists.

Among the patients being treated there are Marine Lance Cpl. Jorge Ortiz, 19, of Fresno  and Cpl. Farrell Gilliam, 22, of Ridgecrest.

Ortiz, a combat photographer, was taking pictures of a captured weapons cache in Sangin, Afghanistan, on Jan. 15 when he stepped on a buried explosive device. The blast ripped off his legs above the knees and snapped off four fingers on his left hand and the thumb on his right hand.

Gilliam was a machine-gunner in Ortiz’ regiment. A week before Ortiz was injured, Gilliam stepped on a buried bomb. The blast took off both legs and severely damaged his right arm. He also suffered a severe abdominal injury.

Read Tony Perry’s full story

1 Comment

  1. June 5, 2011, 7:38 pm

    Prayers for everyone there and for all those who care for the wounded. There is good in the world.

    By: vocvoce

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