SAN ANTONIO -- First Lieutenant Micah Andersen is living proof that America is still fighting a war in Afghanistan -- emphasis on living. However, Anderson's condition was in serious question just a few short months ago.
"They thought I was dead," said Andersen. "They thought I was a goner, and that’s what they told my family, that he's not going to make it."
Andersen, a native of New Mexico, served his time as an enlisted Army soldier, got out, and moved to Boise to be close to his elderly grandparents. He enrolled in Boise State University and fell in love with his new adopted hometown.
"The parks are amazing, especially for someone like me," said Andersen. "I like to run. I like to get outside!”
That passion for the outdoors and running drew him to Boise native Linzi Bammarito. They met at Boise state, formed "Team Awesome" (a nickname they said characterized their relationship) and were married in July of 2011.
THE EVENTS THAT CHANGED HIS LIFE
It kicked off a series of events that would change both of their lives forever.
ROTC at Boise State led to an officer's commission with the Army after their honeymoon. He became a Lieutenant in October stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia.
It was Linzi's first time living outside Boise. "That was my first introduction to Army life and Army wife so I had no idea what to expect." said Linzi.
As it turned out, no one could predict what would happen next.
First came a transfer to Fort Bliss in El Paso, then a baby on the way -- and then in December of last year word came down: Micah was being deployed to Afghanistan, one of the most dangerous places on earth. Andersen said he wasn’t worried.
"I thought: No big deal,'" said Andersen. "I thought: 'I'll go get through it, make sure everything gets done, try to get everyone home safe. I'll get back. I'll have a kid, a house.'"
He shipped out and movied through three different companies in Afghanistan, eventually landing as a rifle platoon leader. In that role he found himself working with, and alongside marksmen highly trained for the job.
In April, he watched on Skype as Linzi delivered their son Jay in Boise. "Her brother was going play-by-play: 'I think its crowning....its crowning....wow,'" said Andersen smiling from ear-to-ear.
The conversation shifted to the events of June 1st. Andersen looked up from his hospital bed and repeated the date, "... June 1st..."
THE FIREFIGHT NEAR KANDAHAR
It was on that day of last summer that a firefight broke out with insurgents outside the city of Kandahar.
"Some of the best bunch of guys I've ever seen, and they executed everything flawlessly," said Andersen of the men involved in the battle that day.
The platoon won the skirmish, the attackers dropped their weapons and ran.
Andersen and his team moved to the area where the insurgents had just fled.
“We picked a route that we thought there’s no way anyone would put an IED here because it would make no sense," explained Andersen. "I stepped over and the next thing I know there’s a big poof of dust and dirt and my legs are above me and I slammed on my back. At that point I thought 'this sucks,’ and I asked if my legs were still there, and they said ‘no,’ and I said 'okay now this really sucks."
Others soldiers were also wounded in the fight. One didn’t make it.
Andersen was medevaced to a U.S. hospital in Germany where -- now in a coma -- the staff worked around the clock hoping to save his life. Linzi got the call every soldier’s wife fears most.
"You don’t know what to think. Okay, he's alive, I didn’t realize what that meant," said Andersen’s wife.
The Army flew Linzi and, now, 1-month-old baby Jay, and other family members to Germany. Linzi said she was told by doctors that her husband might not make it back to the US.
"I said goodbye to him because I didn’t know...," said Linzi.
No one knew.
The blast from the IED left Andersen with a fungal infection from the micro-organisms embedded in the device from the Afghan soil.
It spread up his legs quickly requiring daily surgeries.
FACING LIFE WITHOUT LEGS
"That’s why they were cutting off little bits of the leg each time and trying to get ahead of it. Finally they just went all the way up,” said Andersen pointing to his hip.
Still in critical condition he was flown on a hospital jet to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio where new treatment procedures were giving doctors hope for recovery. Hope, that soon turned into reality for the soldier who received the Purple Heart from his Texas hospital bed.
"Two years ago I don’t think I would have made it, in fact I wouldn’t have made it. But now the doctors, treatments are so good it allowed me to make it," said a smiling Andersen.
Doctor Booker King is the Director of the Brooke Army Medical Center’s burn unit. He said they have made large strides in fighting the infections some soldiers are coming home with from Afghanistan.
"We see these patients come back, and they start their lives. That’s what motivates us to help the next soldier," said King. "We see the fruits of our labor so to speak. And we see that what we are doing benefits and impacts their lives and that makes us feel good."
Doctors believe Micah's fungal infections are now in check, but they are still performing weekly, painful washout surgeries to make sure they don’t return continue.
And, if you’re wondering about his state of mind and the "why me" question many would justifiably have in this situation? He says knowing he will be leaving the hospital soon to start a new life with his young family is helping him move forward every day.
“My whole life is changed now, but change isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. I won’t be able to run as well as I used to. It's going be a little harder to build a deck or a tree house, but that doesn’t mean all the fun things are over with,” said Andersen. "For me, losing the legs is a small price to pay for being alive. I would much rather be alive than be dead with legs."
Andersen is hoping to be released from the hospital shortly after the first of the year.
Andersen talks about the many hurdles he encounters in his recovery process including a phenomenon known as phantom limb pain. It's something that happens to many recent amputees who say they experience pain in a limb that is no longer there.
Andersen and his physical therapists have come up with a “phony leg” to help fool his subconscious, and as he explains -- its working:
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