MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
On March 5, 2010, while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Capt. Matthew Kutilek’s life would change forever.
While on patrol in Laki, Garmsir District, an enemy sniper sighted in on one of Kutilek’s Marines. However, the enemy’s high velocity round strayed just inches away from his Marine’s face below him and struck Kutilek’s right leg. Kutilek immediately dropped on top of one of his corpsman, and without hesitation, the corpsman immediately applied a tourniquet to stop the blood loss. The round severed his tibia bone, two out of three arteries, took out half of his calf muscle and nine centimeters of his tibia nerve – all open compound – and resulted in massive amounts of blood loss.
With his life in serious doubt, Kutilek was medically evacuated to a Forward Resuscitative Surgery System at Forward Operation Base Dwyer for further lifesaving treatment, then to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany before ending up at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., for the next eight months for treatment that he said, “Is the best medicine” he has ever received. In fact, he said he would, “Take Navy surgeons and doctors over the highest paid civilian doctors any day of the week.”
Since that horrific day, Kutilek has undergone at least 10 surgeries, more than 90 hours of physical therapy and pain management appointments among many other rehabilitation procedures. With his most recent surgery, doctors removed a 16-inch plate previously placed in his right leg at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, inserted a metal rod and rotated his knee cap back to its normal position at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth in Portsmouth, Va.
He is attached to the Wounded Warriors Battalion-East aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune as a patient while he makes a full recovery. As a patient, he does not idly sit by while he recovers. He wants to let those who have helped him recover know they are appreciated.
On June 16, he told doctors, physicians and nurses how much Navy medicine has had an impact on his life at a weekly medical meeting at the John Westfield building on the campus of Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune aboard MCB Camp Lejeune. He did so at the invitation of his pain management doctor and friend, Cmdr. Jerry Foltz. Not suspecting anything besides another weekly Power Point, Navy medical staff members were honored by the words of Kutilek.
“There’s a running joke about Navy medicine,” said Kutilek, as he opened his speech. “It’s the lowest bidder, the cheap alternative to real medicine, which is off base. The fact is, if it weren’t for naval medicine, you’d be talking to a dead man.”
Kutilek described his corpsman’s quick, 30-second reaction that saved his life. He said if the corpsman waited another 20 seconds, he would have died.
“It really irritates the life out of me when I hear people talk like that about Navy medicine,” said the Bronze Star Medal with Valor recipient. “These people obviously never have received any treatment from the Navy, or let alone military, because if they did, they would have a totally different opinion. They’re ignorant.”
Kutilek believes he can talk about the positive exploits of naval medicine in good faith, as he has encountered, according to his medical records, everything from neurologists and physical therapists to X-ray technicians to podiatrists. He even can attest to the delivery rooms as he and his wife have three daughters. He believes he has received a Navy hospital’s virtual tour since he’s been injured.
Kutilek knows medical staff not only have the stress of saving lives and giving sound medical advice to their patients, but also, as he described the stress of “unappreciative patients,” is not something they should focus on.
“Don’t focus on those who give you all a black eye,” said Kutilek. “Instead, focus on those who have great attitudes, ones you’ve developed a relationship with.”
Kutilek feels Navy medical staff goes far beyond what is required of them. His wife was eight months pregnant with their third child when he was wounded, and during the course of his recovery, doctors consoled his wife as she felt the pain as well. He said those things were just as consoling to him.
“In addition to the top-notch medical care you all provide, do one more thing,” said Kutilek. “There are Marines who come from abusive backgrounds, broken homes. Give them preferential treatment. Don’t just be their doctor or therapist, be their friend and help them through their tough times. I came from a positive home with parents who are still married to this day. I have a beautiful wife and three beautiful girls. I have a lot to be thankful for.”
He ended his talk for those in his audience with the hope they draw a parallel from a bit of advice he provided a young Navy nurse from his Sunday morning church group who is deploying to the Helmand province. She has never seen combat nor has she ever deployed. She asked him what she should do in country. He didn’t know how to answer her question other than what he experienced.
“Go as far forward as possible, go to the front lines. Volunteer yourself to those who you will serve,” said Kutilek. “Yes, you will see dead Marines and sailors, you will see wounded Marines, but they will need you. I couldn’t tell how many bruises I left on the nurses’ and doctors’ arms because of the pain I was in. They didn’t care what rank I was … to them, I am a Marine. That’s all that matters to them.”
Those in attendance were completely awe-struck about his experiences and thankful for his kind words.
“Wow,” was all Cmdr. Marnie Buchanan, the head of the Staff Education and Training Department, NHCL, said. “He’s truly an amazing Marine and person. For him to say all these nice things about what we do really means a lot.”
Navy doctors, nurses and corpsmen all have made an impact on Kutilek and his family. He is an advocate for Navy medicine and for wounded Marines. He is thankful for those who have helped him and his family through the tough times. To Kutilek, it’s not about him. It’s about those who are still in harm’s way. It’s about the forward-deployed Navy medical personnel and the brave Marines they will make an impact on.
“I am doing my best to be an advocate and voice for wounded Marines and Navy medicine,” said Kutilek. “It’s all about them, not me.”