Revealed: How hundreds of military personnel, millions of pounds and an experimental 'lung' saved the life of a British soldier... shot by accident in his own camp
By Peter Almond
It was one of the most complex military logistical and medical operations ever undertaken – and it saved the life of a young British soldier critically injured in Afghanistan.
It involved hundreds of doctors, air and ground crews of several nations, travelling many thousands of miles, revolutionary and experimental medical equipment, several planes and helicopters and communications between three continents and cost millions of pounds.
For months, details of the massive operation to save one man’s life have been shrouded in secrecy. The injured soldier was not shot by the Taliban but was almost certainly wounded accidentally at his camp near Sangin in Helmand province in late July last year.
It is understood that Soldier X – he is not being identified at the request of his family – was not wearing body armour at the time. The Ministry of Defence has declined to offer any explanation.
The respected American journalist Michael Yon, himself a former US special forces soldier, reported on his blog that he heard the shot and saw a flurry of activity and a medical evacuation helicopter taking Soldier X away.
Then began a most incredible effort to save his life.
Soldier X had been shot in the abdomen and chest, losing his right lung and damaging his liver, according to the US military Stars And Stripes newspaper. Another American military report said his blood supply was replaced more than ten times, and that he was transfused with 75 units of blood and another 75 units of platelets.
He was alive – but only just. He needed specialist equipment to do what his lungs could not: provide oxygen to his blood and remove the carbon dioxide built up in its passage through his body. He needed an artificial lung and intensive care within hours. Such equipment was available at hospitals in Britain, nearly 4,000 miles away, but Soldier X would almost certainly die on the long flight.
He needed a portable, low-pressure artificial lung and the Americans offered to help. But the bureaucracy of moving from the British to the American military system meant that valuable time was being lost.