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Posted: 7/3/2003 5:31:46 PM EDT
[url]http://www.statesman.com/asection/content/auto/epaper/editions/today/news_f3304d09b01012a50005.html[/url] [b]Round Rock's Iraq hero battles devastating injuries Shot while trying to help another soldier, medic recuperates as parents watch and pray.[/b] By Elliott Blackburn AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF Thursday, July 3, 2003 Photographs e-mailed to friends and family back home show a pair of brown eyes gazing up from a carefully arranged mass of tubes. A light-blue hospital gown hides the slowly healing hole in his abdomen and a patchwork of fresh skin grafts. Each morning, his glance falls on a mosaic of pictures hanging to the left of his bed: most of past caregivers, some of friends and family. To his right, his eyes can rest on the faces of two attentive parents. His parents say they can tell a lot from his eyes. "Some people have dancing eyes, and you can read everything in them," said his mother, Rosie Babin. "Praise God, Alan's just one of those people." Pfc. Alan Babin, a 22-year-old Round Rock resident and medic in the 82nd Airborne Division, was critically wounded during a March 31 firefight near Samawa, Iraq. Unable to speak, Babin will spend this Independence Day strapped to pumps and ventilators in the special intensive care unit at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. His parents will be there with him, changing bandages and bedsheets, praying for their son's recovery. "He's my baby," Rosie Babin said. "But (he's) also a soldier who's been through hell." Babin was one of a handful of medics working with the 3rd Platoon attached to Alpha Company who were moving on foot south of Sumawa the morning of March 31. U.S. forces were pushing to capture bridges over the Euphrates River. The platoon was one of two groups that came into contact with the enemy, said Capt. Brian McDonald, Babin's company commander. Rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire peppered the soldiers. When a private was shot in the face, someone shouted for a medic. Babin ran without hesitation into the fray to help the injured soldier, McDonald said. The medic was shot in the stomach. "His job is to do what he did, but he didn't have to get out of his little foxhole," McDonald said. "He volunteered to get up there, to go over and treat another guy who had been hit." Babin lay for roughly three hours before a helicopter flew him to better medical care. The injured private whom Babin tried to help has returned to duty. But Babin's situation looked bleak when he arrived aboard the Comfort, a naval hospital ship. Babin's wounds earned him the Purple Heart, and he has been approved for a Bronze Star for valor. "He's an everyday guy you would see on the street," McDonald said. "But he's not an everyday guy. He's special." Finding his mission Babin studied karate and played baseball as a teenager. He earned a General Educational Development certificate instead of finishing coursework at Round Rock High School. Unhappy and unsure of his prospects, he took an interest in nursing. "He was going from job to job; he wasn't really happy with the jobs he was getting," Sonia Alfaro, his aunt, said. "I always told him, `You're going to have to go back to school.' I guess he found that route through the Army." Sept. 11 solidified his resolve to enlist. He signed up two months later, but not before he was assured of a medic assignment. Rosie Babin warned him about the path he was choosing. She was sure the country would go to war and knew that the 82nd would be one of the first to deployed. As a medic, her son would be on the front lines. But he told her that was exactly what he wanted. "I didn't want to understand it," she said. "But I understood." His father, Alain, retired from the Air Force, pinned on Babin's wings at graduation. It was long after the shooting before Babin's parents realized how close they'd come to losing their son. They knew he was injured. They expected a phone call from hospitals in Germany with information about his condition. But it was a week before they learned any more, and another three weeks of waiting as their son drifted aboard the floating hospital. "It was almost a mourning period," Rosie Babin said. "Anything would set us off weeping." It was through the help of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn that they family finally found their missing son. "You can't imagine how distraught they were," he said. When Cornyn's office learned that the family had not heard from their son, workers began making phone calls. They finally tracked Babin down on the Comfort. Nurses began writing the family e-mail updates. Long road to recovery Doctors and nurses struggled to keep Babin alive. When the bullet slashed through his abdomen, it destroyed his spleen and 90 percent of his stomach, hitting his pancreas and grazing his liver. The medical team performed a delicate balancing act as his blood swung from being too thick and clotting to being too thin and bleeding out. A flesh-eating bacteria or a reaction to antibiotics -- doctors aren't sure which -- left third-degree chemical burns across his hips. In daily e-mails to a network of friends she calls "Alan's Angels," Rosie Babin chronicles his every grin, thumbs-up and step toward recovery. "Alan was able to lift his left wrist and forearm a couple of inches from the bed today," she wrote June 23. "His body appears to be healing before our very eyes." Babin has battled infections and pneumonia, and he suffered a minor stroke and meningitis in April. Doctors have removed two-thirds of his small intestine. He breathes with the assistance of ventilators and a tracheotomy. A once slim but muscular soldier now struggles through a fog of heavy sedation to move even an inch. "He looks thin and frail, like an elderly man," his aunt, Alfaro, said. "Subtle movements, like moving his hand from the side of his body to his belly . . . that is a big step for him." To be with their son, Rosie Babin took an extended leave, now without pay, from her job as an office manager at a Round Rock accounting firm. Alain Babin is nearing the last of four months of paid leave from his job as a lieutenant with the Round Rock police. On most days there is progress. A once-football-shape hole from his sternum to his pelvis has narrowed to 6 inches wide. Blood thinners and a host of watchful eyes concentrate on a clot near his liver, and doctors think any damage the stroke may have caused can be corrected through physical therapy. Skin grafts to cover the burns around his hips are beginning to grow, his mother reports. But it will be at least a year before Babin eats steak again, his mother said. The long-term outlook is cautiously good. Doctors think that, barring complications, he will be able to live normally, except for his diet. Some foods will be off limits, and Babin will now eat several small meals a day instead of three larger ones. Also, without a spleen, he will be more severely affected by illnesses. "He'll never be able to take a cold for granted," Rosie Babin said. In eight to 12 months, Babin will probably return home for convalescence with an intravenous bag and a feeding tube. He remains too weak from malnourishment to talk. But on June 26, when McDonald stepped into his hospital room, Babin's eyes revealed his emotions. "Like any grown man, (he was) trying to hold back, puckering up as hard as he could to hold it back," Rosie Babin said. "There was no way. The tears flowed, and he sobbed." McDonald assured Babin that his platoon, still in Iraq, is doing fine. He still fights to find words to describe the medic. "I have 203 guys in my company," he said. "I have one hero in this whole thing, and it's Alan."
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