News>Feature - Barksdale Purple Heart recipient: Road to recovery
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Staff Sgt. David Flowers, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., poses with his wife Elizabeth from his hospital bed at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Sergeant Flowers lost his right leg below the knee, completely shattered his left leg and fractured his right arm and wrist when he stepped on an anti-personnel land mine in Afghanistan on May 11, 2009. (COURTESY PHOTO).
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Staff Sgt. David Flowers, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician from Barksdale, stops for a photo op during his rehabilitation at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Sergeant Flowers lost his right leg below the knee, completely shattered his left leg and fractured his right arm and wrist when he stepped on an anti-personnel land mine in Afghanistan on May 11, 2009. (COURTESY PHOTO).
AFGHANISTAN -- Staff Sgt. David Flowers (left), Staff Sgt. Lillian Smith (center) and Staff Sgt. Gene Tschida, Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians deployed with the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, pose for a photo during a rare quiet moment during their deployment in 2009. (COURTESY PHOTO).
AFGHANISTAN -- Staff Sgt. David Flowers (right) and Staff Sgt. Gene Tschida, Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians deployed with the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, stop for a quick photo during their deployment in 2009. (COURTESY PHOTO).
by Senior Airman Megan Tracy
2d Bomb Wing Public Affairs
6/15/2010 - BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- It's been a little more than a year since the explosion in Afghanistan that changed the life of Staff Sgt. David Flowers. This time last year, he was still confined to a bed, the threat of losing his leg forefront on his mind. Today, he's able to walk on his own with the assistance of a prosthetic leg and a cane.
"I haven't used a wheelchair in more than a month," he said. "I walk with one cane for the most part. Basically, without the cane I kind of sway and the doctors say if I drop the cane, I'll always have that sway. So, I try to walk everywhere and do as much as possible."
On May 11, 2009, Sergeant Flowers and his team were assisting the Afghanistan National Police at a weapons cache site. They were tasked with securing and disposing of the weapons and any other ordnance that may be in the area.
In a split second, Sergeant Flowers' life would change. While conducting his sweep, he stepped on an anti-personnel land mine. Though the explosion ripped through his right leg below the knee and completely shattered his left leg, Sergeant Flowers remained conscious through the event and was able to make a life-saving decision. Instead of falling to the left, he fell back into the blast hole. He knew if he fell to the side, a secondary explosion may have occurred resulting in further injuries for him and possibly injuring members of his unit.
"My initial thought was 'Oh god what just happened,' I knew I had stepped on a land mine," he said. "My second thought was 'What am I going to tell my wife.' because it was a life changing thing in a split second, so I was really worried about talking to her."
Meanwhile, team member Staff Sgt. Gene Tschida, was looking for ordnance in another area of the courtyard when he heard the explosion. He knew immediately that one of his team members had been injured and without a second thought to his own safety, sprinted across the live mine field to Sergeant Flowers. Once there, he started an IV and applied tourniquets to both of Sergeant Flowers' legs--a move doctors say saved his life.
"Honestly, it wasn't anything that I sat and thought about, it just happened," Sergeant Tschida said.
"All my training kicked in," continued the sergeant stationed at Beale AFB, California. "I've been in combat situations before and I've seen better men than I do what I did, and I guess learning by their example it naturally seemed like the right thing to do. I'm glad I did it."
A very young, unknown, Army specialist was the medic at the site, and while him and Sergeant Tschida were tending to Sergeant Flowers, the EOD team lead that day, Staff Sgt. Lillian Smith, sprinted multiple clicks away to their vehicle to grab the satellite phone and call for help.
"What they did was so instrumental in keeping me alive," Sergeant Flowers said. "Basically, all I did was get blown up. What they did was extremely heroic, they're the real heroes."
Sergeant Flowers was medically evacuated to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, where he underwent the first of many surgeries. After he was stabilized, he was then flown to Germany where his wife, Elizabeth, met him for the flight to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C.
Less than two months after Sergeant Flowers arrived, he had undergone more than 16 surgeries, including a specialized surgery to help re-grow the muscle and tissue in his left leg.
At the time, doctors couldn't say for sure if his leg would ever be strong enough to walk on. But, Sergeant Flowers' optimism never faltered--he was convinced he would one day walk on his own again.
"I always knew that I would walk again," he said. "For about 10 months, no one could tell me if my leg was going to be amputated. If it doesn't heal correctly, it could be amputated. It's a two-year process of saving this leg. I just crossed the one year mark, I'm very optimistic about hitting the two-year mark."
Faced with a long road of recovery and uncertainties, Sergeant Flowers says his focus is on the future, not the past.
"I guess when something like this affects your life, something so life altering, you have to stay positive," Sergeant Flowers said. "Staying positive is the only way to get through the day. I have to show people that this isn't a career ender or the end of the world. I'm going to move on and I'm going to be just fine, just give me a little time."
After his release from Walter Reed, Sergeant Flowers hopes that he can stay in the Air Force and teach the newest generation of EOD Airmen. But, even if the Air Force medically retires him, he still has a plan.
"If they decide to medically retire me, I can still go to the school house in a civilian capacity and instruct," he said. "I went through a lot of things that maybe not too many other people have experienced. I have seen a lot and done a lot, and if I can pass that on, it'll play an instrumental role in the next generation of EOD techs."
Although he still has a long way to go before being released from Walter Reed, Sergeant Flowers is still maintaining the optimism and sense of humor that has helped him through this ordeal and says he has absolutely no regrets about what happened.
"This doesn't define me," Sergeant Flowers said. "It doesn't deter me from doing anything. If the Air Force will let me, I will do this [mission] again."