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Soldier survives bizarre injury thanks to heroics and a bit of tech

  • Story Highlights
  • Sgt. Dan Powers is a squad leader with the 118th Military Police Company
  • He was stabbed in the head with a nine-inch knife
  • Thanks to fast-acting medical professionals, Powers survived
  • Today, he sometimes takes aspirin for the headaches but that's all
  • Next Article in Health »
By Jennifer Pifer
CNN
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FORT BRAGG, North Carolina (CNN) -- It takes a few moments to notice the dent in Sgt. Dan Powers' head, a place where he was stabbed with a nine-inch blade while patrolling the streets of the Iraqi capital.

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An X-ray shows the knife sticking into Sgt. Dan Powers' head.

During his dozen years in the Army, Powers has witnessed a lot. But what happened to him this summer is nothing short of miraculous.

On July 2, Powers, a squad leader in the 118th Military Police Company out of Fort Bragg, and his unit were called to investigate a report of a late afternoon explosion in a Baghdad neighborhood. For the unit, it wasn't anything they hadn't seen before. They were on their second tour of duty in Iraq to train Iraqi police officers.

The explosion was minor and Powers walked away from the area to deal with the crowd that had gathered.

It was then that Powers felt something hit his head.

"I wondered briefly if I had been shot," he says.

In reality, Powers had been stabbed in the head. And the nine-inch knife was still stuck into the right side of his cranium. Video Watch doctors discover the knife in Powers' head (Viewer discretion is advised) »

Powers' fellow soldiers jumped into action. They loaded him into a Humvee and sped off to their "home base."

There, medics carefully wrapped his wound, covering the knife with a Styrofoam cup. Photo See X-rays, photos of knife in Powers' head (Viewer discretion is advised.) »

"I was bleeding," said Powers, "but not in any kind of pain."

Powers was rushed to the Green Zone. From there, a helicopter took him to a hospital in Balad, a top notch treatment center in Iraq. While en route, a fellow soldier called Powers' wife Trudy.

"I kind of flipped out," Trudy Powers remembered. She also insisted that she talk with her husband.

"I told her I loved her and that I'm going to be OK," Powers recalled.

At the time, Trudy Powers had no idea her husband had a knife sticking out of his head. When she found out what had happened, Trudy Powers says with a laugh "you don't want to hear what I said."

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After that brief conversation with his wife, Powers arrived at Balad Hospital. An X-ray revealed the knife entered just below his helmet, above his cheekbone, dangerously close to his temporal lobe.

It also pierced his cavernous sinus, nicking the internal carotid artery.

"The knife was acting like a cork," said Lt. Col. Dr. Richard Teff, the neurosurgeon who operated on Powers.

It's then that Teff and a team of other doctors needed to make a critical decision: pull the brain back to clamp the artery in Powers' cavernous sinus or just pull the knife out.

Teff pulled the knife out. Powers began bleeding profusely.

"Everybody in the room thought I wasn't going to make it," Powers said.

Thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C., Lt. Col. Dr. Rocco Armonda, was pulled over on the side of the highway.

An Army vascular neurosurgeon, Armonda was looking at images on his laptop in real time, as the surgery was happening. His advice to the team in Iraq: close the sergeant up and get him to the National Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, immediately.

The non-stop flight from Iraq to the United States took 13 hours.

Once at Bethesda, Powers was rushed into surgery.

The neurosurgical team coiled the carotid artery and performed cranioplasty on Powers' skull. For four days, Powers was in a drug-induced coma. Doctors feared he would wake up with brain damage or blind.

Remarkably, he only had problems with his balance.

Powers spent a month at Bethesda. During that time, he testified via videoconference in the trial of the man who stabbed him.

The Army sergeant is now home in North Carolina. Powers says he still gets pretty bad headaches, but that a couple of aspirin makes them go away. Doctors will perform another surgery in January.

"It is amazing a person can tolerate this," Teff said on Powers' recovery.

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Powers hopes to rejoin his unit as a squad leader in the spring.

Looking back at what happened, Powers is still amazed. "Everything had to be there," Powers says, "the right place, the right time, the right equipment .... I am humbled by the lengths that the military went ... to save me." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Jennifer Pifer is a senior producer with CNN medical news. Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and editorial producer Maria Spinella contributed to this report.

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