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In Baghdad, the story hits home

In this past week I have seen a lot of horrific wounds and heroic attempts to save lives. I've been with the 28th Combat Support Hospital, the military's trauma center in Baghdad's Green Zone. But yesterday a case almost overwhelmed me emotionally. In the afternoon, two mortar rounds fell a few hundred yards away near the U.S. embassy. Loud speakers and sirens announce "a lockdown" of the heavily fortified area. People are not allowed to leave buildings. It proved a good call; a third round came in minutes later. Then a huge car bomb exploded just outside the Green Zone's gates. The tension level in the hospital rises immediately. Will there be casualties arriving? Within minutes a U.S. Army Humvee speeds to the gate and soldiers carry in a bloody and mangled Iraqi girl. I would guess her age to be 6 or 7 years. The doctors, nurses and technicians immediately start working on her with the same furious intensity they summon when a U.S. soldier arrives. "Two amputations and chest perforations," one of the doctors shouts. They rush her immediately from the emergency room to surgery.

Seeing the girl rushed in, I could not help thinking of my own children at her age. Tears welled up in my eyes. Later, when I talked to some of the nurses and doctors they said it is the same for them. They choke up with every child, even though, as one nurse told me, "we have seen 25 just like this in the last few months."

Very few Iraqis get care from the U.S. military, proportional to the number who are injured everyday in the sectarian violence. Usually it is those who are political connected, or those picked up in a moment's decision by a unit on patrol. It is hard to get the story of the girl straight. She was not hurt by the mortars in the Green Zone. It was either the car bomb or a separate IED. After dropping her off, the soldiers in the Humvee sped back to duty. The most likely reason she was picked up is that some soldier, possibly a medic, just thought of his own kids and could not leave her on the street.

Even though the girl was close to death, the surgeons and other staff in the operating room kept her alive. And though they need to amputate one leg, they worked for hours to save her arm that had been mangled.

What will happen to the girl? The hospital staff will keep her as long as they can, but they have few beds for long stays. The U.S. causalities who cannot return to duty in a day or two are flown to the U.S. Army Hospital in Germany and then on to hospitals in the U.S. for care. Eventually the girl will have to be transferred to "medical city" -- the Iraqi civilian hospital across the Tigris which is understaffed, overcrowded and short  of supplies as it takes in most of those who are wounded on the streets here daily.

Editor's note: If you missed Robert's report from the CASH hospital that aired on Tuesday's broadcast, click here or on the image to watch.