Local News

Friday, Oct 26 2012 02:55 PM

Wounded Bakersfield soldier describes his recovery efforts and more

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    Samuel Van Kopp

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  2. 2 of 2

    Samuel Van Kopp

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By THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN

A U.S. Army officer from Bakersfield who was seriously wounded in Afghanistan last month has, for the first time, provided an update of his situation and medical condition in his own words.

Lt. Samuel Van Kopp, a Bakersfield High School and West Point graduate, was wounded Sept. 26 when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest, sending a single ball bearing into the brain of the 24-year-old.

Miraculously, Van Kopp survived, although a lengthy recovery is expected.

In the Facebook post that follows, the wounded soldier talks about his rehabilitation, his continuing problems with his eyesight and the gratitude he feels for the dedicated medical professionals who assist him and for the many people in Bakersfield and elsewhere who have expressed their support and best wishes.

Samuel Van Kopp in his own words, very lightly edited:

I've been in the Richmond VA (a medical center for veterans) for the last couple of days. This is an old facility with a driven staff who facilitate rehabilitation therapies seven hours a day.

Every day I get a bit stronger in their care. My problems with reading persist, particularly with text backlit on a TV or computer screen. The optometrists at Walter Reed believe my problems are two-fold.

The ball bearing that went into my brain is lodged in a place where it doesn't seem to be doing much harm, and the neurosurgeons have decided to leave it in place. The body will likely coat the fragment with tissue over time, further isolating it. But it did pass through the area of my brain associated with vision, and also nicked the optical nerve.

The second problem is that the gel behind my cornea that forms the bulk of the eyeball was agitated by the force of the explosion. The opthalmologists believe that it may take a few months for the gel to settle and my normal eyesight to return.

Past that, my problems are physiological. I'm weak. At 5'11," in Afghanistan I weighed around 190 lbs. Now I punch in at 155. I can walk for an hour or so, bike for half that, but then I need a break.

Despite being generously medicated, nausea and vertigo sometimes get the better of me. Weight-lifting and running right now would be more humorous than productive.

These are all First World Problems. I'm surrounded -- as I was at Walter Reed -- by men who gave far more, whose wounds are monstrous and terrifying yet borne with a stoicism that shames me. I am very fortunate.

I am reminded such when I think of SSG Sparks and SGT Gollnitz, whose memorial service at Schweinfurt occurred on the 23rd. I think also of my platoon in Afghanistan, still running combat patrols against a determined enemy who engages them daily.

All sides have an eye out for the first snows that will signal the end of the fighting season. But it hasn't snowed yet.

On the 31st of October, I will return to Walter Reed. There the ENT doctors will remove the packing from my right ear canal, and will assess whether I can fly, or whether I need to remain in Richmond a few more weeks.

If the former, a small army of social workers, army liaisons, and health care administrators will decide whether I go to the VA hospital in Palo Alto, to a Warrior Transition Brigade at a nearby Army post, or home for outpatient care as a Medical Examination Review Board determines if I am to stay in the Army, return to my unit, or reclassify to a branch that doesn't involve jumping out of airplanes.

For now my future, like everyone else's, remains unknown. I am continually overawed by the support that my family and I have received, from friends all over Bakersfield and the United States.

I can't articulate how much easier recovery is when you know that a legion of people stand behind you. I don't know how anyone gets by without it.

My mom is typing this, but I hope soon to be able to write back to the messages and letters I have received. Thank you so very much. Godspeed.

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