The Soldier in the Pink Dress | Orthopedics This Week

The Soldier in the Pink Dress

RRY Publications

Her name is Crystal. The dress was certainly pink and it showed plenty of Crystal’s shoulder, back and front. Crystal was standing among a small group of award winners for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) banquet this past week in Washington. D.C. Amidst the blue, gray, and black suits and evening gowns, Crystal was a colorful exotic flower.

She also had large tattoos on both shoulders, back and, yes, over the swell of her bosom.

It was hard not to notice Crystal. Lauren Pearson, AAOS’s Manager of Media Relations told me that Crystal was the subject of a documentary that was a MORE award winner for 2009. She’s an amputee.

All of the MORE award winners sit in the front row of a large room and then walk up to a podium when called. John J. Callaghan, M.D., President of AAOS this year, did the honors. The film, Fighting for Life, was the last MORE award winner to be called. Terry Sanders (co-producer and two-time Academy Award winning film maker), Tammy Alvarez (executive producer), Sgt Abdul Madjid, USMC, one of the subjects of the film and SPC Crystal Davis, U.S. Army, the other subject of the film, came to the podium.

The film documents today’s military surgeons as they go through training and then deployment. It also follows two casualties of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as they are treated by these military surgeons and nurses. In the film we meet Crystal Davis as she is being medivaced. Her surgeon is telling her that he had to amputate her left leg and her right leg was iffy. She’s negotiating hard to keep the right leg.

SPC Crystal Davis is an Army truck driver. Every other truck passed over that particular stretch of gravel in Iraq in 2008 but when Crystal’s truck went over, the hidden IED detonated.

Like all great art, this film captures the powerful emotional journey that Crystal, her family, and her caregivers went through. There were very few dry eyes in the audience this past Wednesday night. Even Crystal’s. When the time came for the filmmaker and producer to come to podium, Crystal came too. She also said a few words.

Paraphrasing her, she said: “I want to thank the filmmakers for helping me through my recovery. I wanted to do my best in front of the camera so having them there motivated me. I said to myself, if I can work hard in front of the camera, I can work hard behind the camera too. So I did.” Crystal also thanked her father and other family members and then she ended with a joke. “So, thank you to the doctors and the filmmakers for helping me to get a leg up.”

The standing ovation lasted about 10 minutes.

The intersection of art, war, and orthopedics can be unexpectedly affecting. In addition to this particular film—which is available from the American Film Foundation (contact: ) and we strongly, highly, urgently suggest that your hospital or community group or church rent a copy of this film and show it—there is an exhibition and book of such art that is also available.

Sandy Gordon, AAOS’s Public Relations Director, organized both the MORE Award and the exhibit of war time art as created by surgeons and nurses! To learn more about the AAOS Wounded in Action art exhibit, please visit the Web site: or contact Sandy Gordon, AAOS Public Relations Director, at 847 384-4030 or

Here are five (of 103) works that are part of this great, great exhibition.

Home from the War
by Joseph A. Pearson (36 x 25 in. Oil on Canvas)

Pearson, whose mother lost both legs to diabetes, was inspired to paint this image after seeing a young veteran, an amputee, in a coffee shop. It shows a double amputee strapping on an artificial leg. “I was moved by the sacrifice he’d made for America, ” he says. Joseph A. Pearson, a New Orleans, Louisiana-based artist, served as an illustrator in the U.S. Army from 1976 to 1979. He started drawing at age 5, inspired by the illustrations he saw in a Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog. At the time, he was fascinated by “the magic of making a figure out of lines and shade.” His artwork now includes portraits, murals, and human figures, but drawing figures remains his passion. “My strength as an artist lies in my passion for the familiar faces, figures, and scenes of the loving, but ordinary facets of life: the human condition. My goal is to translate this condition into a universal point of view. My impetus begins with the human spirit and the desire to witness the love that spirit brings into the world, ” Pearson says.

Wounded Warrior
by Richard McCarthy M.D. (20 x 30 x .5 in. Acrylic on Canvas).

Dr. McCarthy’s eldest son, Bryan, who spent eight months piloting an F-18 Super Hornet in Afghanistan, inspired him to paint this picture. “His audacious confidence in the ability of the Navy to bring him back home safely caused me to reflect and paint this image of determination and frailty, ” he says. It shows a veteran, who lost his left arm to an explosive device, in front of an American flag. As a medical student, Dr. Richard E. McCarthy visited his sister, a Navy nurse, as she cared for returning Vietnam veterans at the now-defunct Philadelphia Naval Hospital. This early exposure to wounded soldiers made a lasting impression on him. “I was struck with the stark reality of missing parts in these young warriors trying to piece their lives together, ” says Dr. McCarthy, who was 21 at the time. More recently, the graduation of his youngest son, Andrew, from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, renewed his respect and admiration for the men and women of the uniformed services.

Naval Officer/Amputee 1973

by Peter Langan, M.D.
(24 x 48 in. Oil on Canvas).

Dr. Langan starting painting after a knee injury. This canvas shows a lieutenant commander, who has lost a leg, walking on crutches in his dress blues uniform. Dr. Peter Langan, a Mineola, New York-based orthopedic surgeon, served in the U.S. Navy with the 2nd Marine Division from 1971 to 1973, an experience that is still fresh in his mind more than 30 years later. He is well aware of the personal and professional sacrifices made by soldiers. When treating injured troops, “I try to reciprocate, ” he says. Dr. Langan believes that research plays a big role in orthopedic advancements, such as the development of rods and plates to stabilize fractures. But the most fundamental change has been the speed with which the wounded obtain care. “The military has done a great job in getting the hospital to the injured, ” he says.

by John Ton (44 x 20 in.Mixed Media:
Spent Ammunition Cases).

This image, made of spent ammunition cases, depicts the “chronic patience required by a physically disabled person, ” Ton says. It is his hope that those who view it will reflect on this patience, and gain some patience for themselves. “Regardless of where people stand politically on the gun issue, I want them to first see the beauty of the textures and patinas of the material I have chosen, ” he says. As a self-taught artist, John Ton has created his own mixed media technique, by using spent ammunition casings to produce art. “There is a mountain I often hike on near Reno, where I live, that is littered with shotgun shell cases. My first thoughts were that this unsightly litter might somehow be recycled; it then occurred to me that perhaps some form of art might be made from them. They have an apparently infinite variety of colors, and the casings that have weathered in the sun for a while can fade to a very interesting light blue, lavender, and even white sometimes, ” Ton says. He now collects bullet shells from public and “unsanctioned” ranges in Nevada and California and uses them to make “ammosaics, ” with images reflecting the realities of accident victims, including those he meets as a volunteer at the V.A. Sierra Nevada Health Care System in Reno, Nevada.

by COL Colin Miller, MD (8 x 11 in. Photograph).

Dr. Miller’s first photo, from Afghanistan, captures the trauma on a young girl’s face as her wrist injury is examined and her father looks on. When casualties increased at Ibn Sina Hospital in Baghdad, Col. Colin K. Miller, M.D., had little time for his passion—photography. Orthopedic surgeons at Baghdad E.R., as it is popularly known, had to work around the clock to operate on injured soldiers, snatching catnaps when they could. Instead, Dr. Miller resorted to taking photos in his “downtime”—out of an open Blackhawk helicopter window en route to Baghdad International Airport or while waiting in a bunker for a siren to stop. His images immortalize intense moments from his experiences in combat medicine—experiences that have made him a better surgeon, leader, and person. “I can’t imagine a better job than caring for wounded soldiers, ” he says.

Again, don’t hesitate to contact AAOS for a copy of this powerful exhibit’s book and do find a way to show the movie, Fighting for Life in your hospital, church or other organization.


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