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Treating The Scars Of War

When a homemade bomb hit his Humvee in 2004, Schofield Barracks soldier Ryan Goede took the brunt of the blast.

“The vehicles we had then had little to no armor, no windows and no doors,” he recalled. “The thing went off and we weren’t prepared for it.”

Of five soldiers in the vehicle, he said, “I took the whole beating. … Everyone else was hunkered down.”

It was the third time Goede had been wounded in Iraq and, as before, the doctors were more concerned about saving his life and limbs than about the shrapnel in his face.

And so for three years the soldier tolerated facial scars — until Monday, when he took advantage of free surgery provided to the war wounded.

“I look a little ridiculous,” Staff Sgt. Goede said with a laugh yesterday after returning to Honolulu from Kahului, Maui, where Dr. Larry Schlesinger took 37 pieces of shrapnel from his face.

“It turned out to be a four-hour case,” the doctor said by telephone. “He had shrapnel all through his face, his eyelids, in his lips, in his ear and one big piece right over his vocal cords just under the skin.”

He also had traumatic “tattoos” — dirt and pebbles implanted in his face, said Schlesinger, who abraded the skin with Hawaiian salt and performed laser surgery.

The plastic surgery was the 17th surgery for Goede, 25, who has three Purple Hearts.

An unexpected source entered the picture to cover the costs: the Iraq Star Foundation, formed by Maggie Lockridge of Rancho Mirage, Calif. Lockridge, a former Kailua resident, nurse and Air Force veteran, started the nonprofit in February after seeing ABC-TV journalist Bob Woodruff’s report about his injuries from a roadside bomb in Iraq.

Operating on donations, her foundation covers costs for aesthetic surgeries for military people and veterans with disfiguring facial wounds. With help from prominent Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr. Norman Leaf, she has recruited 140 board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeons in 38 states, “all just waiting to help.”

Goede, from Tucson, Ariz., is the 12th patient so far.

“It’s a great opportunity for plastic surgeons to give back to the community and a great opportunity for guys who’ve done something for their country to get made whole again,” Schlesinger said.

Goede heard about Schlesinger from a buddy whose wife works for the plastic surgeon.

Schlesinger said he told Goede, who planned to pay for the surgery, that “I couldn’t accept any money. I have strong feelings about the military. It’s an opportunity for me to give back and help someone who was over there protecting us.”

Maui-based anesthesiologist Dr. Lance Whitney also donated his services.

When he returned to Maui after seeing Goede in Honolulu, an e-mail was waiting for him about the Iraq Star program, Schlesinger said.

He called Lockridge, who said the organization would pay for Goede’s flight, medicines and other costs. “It was kind of serendipitous,” he said.

He also got Surgicare of Hawaii in touch with Lockridge and it has volunteered its facilities for military reconstructive surgery cases, said administrator Karl Klungreseter.

Goede could easily leave the Army on disability — he has four plates in his body and is blind in one eye — but wants to continue his career as a Special Forces medic.

“Basically, it’s my opportunity to give back the care I’ve received,” he said. “Our platoon medic, I owe him my life.”

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