Just after the holidays in 2012, U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Bryan Forney kissed his wife and three children and told them not to worry – he would be back soon. A helicopter pilot, Bryan was heading out for an operational deployment including the annual, multinational Cobra Gold military exercise in Thailand. He was scheduled to return back to his station in Okinawa, Japan in a couple of months and was expecting to retire from flying after this tour.
On February 20, 2013, Bryan was on the last flight of the last training exercise he was to perform when his life changed forever.
“I was flying with three copilots and five crew chiefs for a practice landing in the mountains of Thailand,” Bryan explained. “We were doing what’s called a main mount landing on the edge of a cliff where you put the back wheels of the helicopter down and the front-end hovers over the edge,” Bryan explained. “The back wheels landed, but a rotor hit a tree behind us. I was able to lift the helicopter back up and move it over the mountain top, but it was destabilized and broke apart. The helicopter fell about 30 to 50 feet and caught on fire.”
Bryan vividly recalled the events of that day, explaining how he was pinned in the wreckage but was eventually pulled from the cockpit – but not before sustaining 2nd and 3rd degree burns to more than 54% of his body and losing his left arm just above the wrist. Today, he uses a prosthetic.
He was transferred to several hospitals before being sent by from Singapore to San Antonio, setting a record for the longest single medivac flight in history of 19.5 hours.
“I got into the burn ICU at BAMC on Feb. 24 and was there until May,” Bryan recalls. “I wasn’t discharged from the hospital until July. I don’t recall much from that time, but I know I had a bad infection called acenitobacter, which they struggled to treat.”
Acenitobacter is commonly referred to as Iraqibacter, because it is found more frequently in service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, but it is a hospital-acquired infection found worldwide.
“The infection was so bad they had to put me on colistin (an antibiotic of last resort because it is also known for its kidney toxicity) and continuous renal replacement therapy as a result of the colistin,” Bryan said.
He recovered and after months of reconstruction, surgeries and physical therapy, Bryan was able to leave the hospital. Just a month or so later, he returned with a MRSA infection he managed to clear and was good for the better part of a year. In 2014, he recalls feeling weak and tired and noticing his leg swelling. Doctors never pinpointed the exact infection but diagnosed Bryan with cellulitis, a bacterial infection affecting the skin and deep tissues. Cellulitis can escalate by travelling to the blood and lymph nodes, causing a blood infection.
The working theory is that because Bryan’s knees were so badly burned and had to undergo such significant reconstructive work to close them, that his lymphatic system took a hit, making him very susceptible to infections and flare ups of cellulitis.
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