In order to save Joseph Grabianowski’s life, doctors had remove more of his lower body than they had for any member of the military in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
This unprecedented surgery was a success and Joseph is on the road to recovery.
But it hasn’t been easy.
His new found independence, that increases daily, is a gift that can’t be gift wrapped, and the worst U.S. combat casualty since 9/11 couldn’t be more thankful.
The best gifts for Army Sgt. Joseph Grabianowski this Christmas aren’t tied up with ribbons and bows.
Independence in a new home he’s made for himself this holiday season can’t be gift-wrapped. Transcendence over wounds that turned his body into a medical battlefield doesn’t fit under a tree.
Much of Joe has been cut away.
This quiet, contemplative soldier carries the distinction of being one of the worst surviving U.S. combat casualties since 9/11. His stirring comeback, in the mind of his family and medical team, is little short of miraculous.
“Joe, for me, was the most challenging case I had in a decade of war,” says Navy Cmdr. Jonathan Forsberg, a surgeon at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
As Joe acclimates to a new apartment and life outside the hospital, his family counts their Christmas blessings.
Dennis Grabianowski says he panicked briefly over the idea of his son living alone.
“But then,” the dad says, “I thought, you know what? Because it is the holiday season, the Christmas season and what that is all about for me, it seemed like it was a very positive sign.”
Joe’s medical situation was beyond dire. Beyond the shattering roadside bomb that tore through Joe’s lower body, things living in the soil of Afghanistan — bacteria and fungus with unpronounceable names — blasted deep into his wounds.
It was on a foot patrol May 29, 2012. Joe was 24.
In the hellish landscape of Kandahar Province, where a buried explosive is the wager of every step, Joe was leading a stretcher bearing then-Pfc. Dalton Clemons, who had lost both legs to an improvised explosive device just minutes before. As Joe led the stretcher down a slope, he was himself hit by a second, even larger buried explosive.
“I know it launched me,” Joe recalls, “because I can remember a cloud of dust. And I was out of the dust. And then I was back in the dust. So I knew I was flying.”