Marine Cpl. Miroslav “Mike” Kazimir and his wife Marcela credit
a strong military medical system and a devotion to each other with
helping them heal after Kazimir was severely wounded in Afghanistan.
DOD photo by Donna Miles
BETHESDA, Md., Sept. 6, 2011 – On a beautiful late April afternoon,
Marcela Kazimir watched tearfully as her wounded husband was carried
onto a massive C-17 Globemaster III aircraft at Ramstein Air Base,
Germany, for the flight to the United States.
Miroslav “Mike” Kazimir, her husband of just 13 months, was in bad
shape, suffering severe leg and spinal injuries, as well as a brain
Days earlier, he had been on a patrol with his 3rd
Battalion, 9th Marines near Marjah, Afghanistan. As a machine
gunner, Kazimir was in the turret of the lead mine resistant,
ambush-protected vehicle when it ran over an improvised explosive
The blast sent him, as well as the entire turret and
gun assembly, flying into a field.
The explosion, which
killed two of Kazimir's best friends and wounded two other Marines
in the vehicle, started Kazimir on a new path to rebuild his body
and his life.
Looking back, Kazimir calls his very survival a testament to
the military medical network that begins with life-saving
“It's amazing that I wasn't killed,”
he said. “I guess I got lucky. I honestly don't know how I
survived that blast.”
Kazimir credited his fellow
Marines with immediately jumping in to apply their
pre-deployment training in battlefield casualty care.
“They knew exactly what to do, and that saved my life,”
A British military helicopter quickly
swooped in to whisk Kazimir off to advanced-level care. He
had lost so much blood, he said, that he received
transfusions from 10 different people before ever leaving
The following day, Air Force aeromedical
evacuation crews flew Kazimir to Landstuhl Regional Medical
Center in Germany, then six days later, to the National
Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
Two New Worlds
Marcela Kazimir knew something was wrong when her phone rang
at five minutes before midnight the day before Easter. A
Czech citizen who had met her future husband at his uncle's
birthday party in New York, Marcela was living with her
family in the Czech Republic during his deployment.
She barely remembers the notification official's words as he
delivered the news that Kazimir had been wounded.
“All I could think to ask was, ‘Is he alive? And is he going
to survive?'” she said. “My sister held me as I cried. It
was a nightmare.”
Once she felt calm enough to talk,
she called the notification officer back to get more
information. Within hours, Marcela's cousin and his fianc�
drove her to Germany.
Standing at the gate to
Landstuhl hospital on Easter Sunday, Marcela recognized she
was entering two new worlds: the military medical system and
the military community.
She remembered the first time
she laid eyes on Kazimir, standing handsomely at his uncle's
birthday party in New York wearing his Marine Corps uniform.
The chemistry had been immediate, with both recognizing
“something magical between us,” Marcela said.
knew we would be together forever, no matter what,” she
Kazimir had arrived in the United States from
his native Slovakia in 1999, and remembers vividly how much
the 9/11 terror attacks affected him. “I was so mad, I
realized I had to do something,” he said.
military recruiter Kazimir visited returned him away because
he had no U.S. Green Card. When he finally was able to get
one, he returned, joining the Marine Corps in 2007. “I
wanted to be with the best,” he said.
preparing for his first deployment, to Ramadi, Iraq, when he
met his future wife. He traveled to New Jersey, where she
was living at the time, to say goodbye before deploying in
They continued their relationship via
email and Skype, and both flew to Florida to be together
during his two-week rest and recuperation leave that summer.
Kazimir surprised Marcela with a marriage proposal. Five
months after he redeployed, the Kazimirs married on March 3,
Preparing for his second deployment, to
Afghanistan, Kazimir helped prepare his new wife for what
seemed at the time like the unthinkable. As part of that
talk, he explained how, if wounded, he would likely be
transported to Germany, then on to a U.S. military hospital.
“He told me I had to be prepared for anything,” Marcela
Marcela's reception when she arrived at
Landstuhl to await her husband's arrival from Afghanistan
gave her the solace she desperately needed.
parents soon arrived from the Czech Republic, and her
in-laws from Slovakia to be at her side. But as Kazimir
underwent his first critical surgeries, the military
community embraced her as well.
Marine Gunnery Sgt.
Ben Coleman and Vivian Wilson, manager of the Fisher House,
were among those who helped tend to her every need.
“I can't find the words to describe all everyone did for
me,” Marcela said, from providing lodging to information
about Kazimir's condition and comforting reassurance that he
was in good hands.
“From the little things to the big
things, they were there for me,” she said.
Advanced, Long-term Care
Six days later, Marcela, wearing a bright black-and-red
Marine Corps shirt, accompanied Kazimir during his
aeromedical evacuation flight to Andrews Air Force Base, Md.
Wilson, Coleman and Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Spencer
Forbes, a Marine liaison, comforted Marcela as she watched
her husband being carried aboard the C-17 at Ramstein.
Seeing so many wounded Marines, and the severity of
their wounds, “sucks sometimes,” Forbes admitted. But it's a
job he volunteered for, returning to the Corps after a
“We get to take care of
our Marines and their families, and that's a pretty
fulfilling job,” he said. “I'd call it one of those
Of the 24 patients on the flight, Kazimir
was among seven in critical condition that required constant
monitoring by a critical care air transport team.
Armed with high-tech equipment that essentially turned the
aircraft into a flying intensive-care unit, they checked
Kazimir's vital signs throughout the eight-hour flight,
administering fluids and medication to keep him comfortable.
Marcela also kept vigil, hovering over her husband and
Once at Andrews, an ambulance
backed up to the aircraft and hurried Kazimir to the
National Naval Medical Center.
Kazimir's wounds were
extensive. The blast had injured his upper spinal column,
broken his femur, shattered bone in both tibias, damaged
both heels and ankles and inflected a brain injury. With the
wounds came regular bouts of “crazy pain,” he said.
Amputation would have been a quicker and ultimately, less
painful option for Kazimir. But despite hearing stories of
comrades bounding around the hallways of Walter Reed Army
Medical Center in their new prostheses, he was committed to
saving his legs.
The Bethesda medical team did all it
could to honor Kazimir's wish during four months of
intensive medical care that included more surgeries than
either he or Marcela can now remember.
“I can't even
count,” he said. “It started with three surgeries a week for
the first two months. Then it went to two a week.”
Marcela marveled at the care her husband received throughout
the process. “It's amazing that they can do something like
this,” she said, looking at his legs, still caged in metal
braces and suspended from above his bed.
credits the staff's expertise, encouragement and occasional
prodding with helping him progress. “Sometimes you need an
extra push,” he said.
But just as important to his
healing, he said, was his wife's constant presence at his
Living at the Navy Lodge on the hospital
grounds because the six Fisher Houses were full, Marcella
spent almost every waking moment with Kazimir. Declining
invitations to hospital-sponsored activities designed to
give families of inpatients a respite, she focused
exclusively on her husband and his healing.
will be time for all those things later,” she said. “Right
now, this is where I feel I need to be. And this is where I
want to be.”
“Psychologically, [her presence] helped
me a lot,” Kazimir said. “If I didn't have her here, I don't
know how well I would have done. It's been really important
to my healing.”
As the medical staff at Bethesda
tended to Kazimir's wounds, they and the Marine Corps
liaisons tended to Marcela's emotional needs, too.
“They became like family, nice and friendly,” she said.
“They'd sit and talk with me...Some of the nurses became my
Last week, the Kazimirs said
goodbye to the Bethesda staff that had cared for them for
four months to begin the next step toward recuperation at
the VA Medical Center in Richmond, Va.
will begin intensive physical therapy, returning to Bethesda
for additional surgeries, as required.
His first big
goal, he said, is to raise from his hospital bed and stand
on the legs that have undergone countless surgeries.
“I'm going to focus on healing, healing, healing so I can
stand, so I can walk, so I can do whatever I did before --
and without pain,” he said.
Kazimir never questions
that he will walk again. “I tell people, don't feel sorry
for me, because I am going to walk,” he said.
clung to that optimism from the moment he first awoke from
semi-consciousness in Bethesda and began coming to grips
with his plight. “There have been ups and downs, but 95
percent of the time, he keeps his spirits up,” Marcela said.
At this point, Kazimir said it's too soon to know what's
ahead for him, and whether he'll be able to remain in the
Marine Corps. He knows it's almost certain he won't be a
machine-gunner, although Marcela encourages him with a
reminder that he'd make a great a machine-gun trainer.
Kazimir ponders the possibly of other missions within
the Corps, or, failing that, as he returns to civilian life.
For now, he said, he's concentrating on taking one step
at a time as he works toward restoring his body and his
“There's no way I'm going to let some
freaking IED take that away,” he said.
It's the same
advice Kazimir said he has to offer any other wounded
warrior -- or anyone whose life is suddenly turned upside
down with a debilitating injury.
“Don't give up,” he
said. “Picture your goal in the long run and focus on what
you've got to do. But whatever happens, never give up.”
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
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