Surgeon Artists Display the Wounds of War

Posted April 27, 2010 at 4:44pm

During the six months he spent operating on patients in Afghanistan in 2005, Lt. Col. Anthony Beardmore also learned to draw.

His pencil drawing based on a photograph taken of him and another surgeon working on an injured Afghan is included in an exhibit on display this week in the Russell Senate Office Building Rotunda. “Wounded in Action: An Art Exhibition of Orthopaedic Advancements,” which takes a look at orthopedic surgery in military settings, is sponsored primarily by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

“There are some incredible artists who are surgeons, and it’s just them using those same talents that make them a good surgeon to make them good artists,” AAOS President John Callaghan explained.

Beardmore earned a Bronze Star for his service in Afghanistan, and he’s now based at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Of the 35 artists represented in the Capitol Hill exhibit, 16 are orthopedic surgeons and 20 have military experience.

The exhibit was first unveiled at AAOS’ annual meeting in New Orleans in March. The full exhibit includes 100 pictures in different media, although the exhibit now displayed in the Russell building includes only 34. After this week, the whole exhibit will open in May at the National Museum of Health and Medicine at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and at the University of Maryland’s Baltimore campus.

The exhibit makes its point by depicting the way orthopedic injuries have affected the military since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. More than 240 orthopedic surgeons have served in combat zones since the attacks, an AAOS spokeswoman noted. More than a quarter of combat injuries have been fractures, and about 70 percent of war wounds are musculoskeletal injuries, 7 percent of which also end with loss of limbs, she added.

Included among the pictures are a number of poignant moments frozen in time. Matthew Jimenez, an orthopedic surgeon in Chicago, contributed a watercolor of a soldier’s well-worn boots. Lawrence Jackson, now a staff photographer at the White House, is represented by a photograph simply named after its subject, Evan Cole. The Army sergeant, injured by a roadside bomb during his second tour of duty in Iraq, rests on a pair of crutches in front of a tombstone at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2008. Ralph Mindicino, who lost his right leg to bone cancer when he was 14 and bonded with a Vietnam veteran who was a fellow amputee, painted a brightly patterned streetscape. The viewer’s eye is drawn to a lone soldier missing his left leg and making his way down the street on crutches.

Callaghan hopes Members of Congress will stop to consider the exhibit.

“What we hope is that they realize how prevalent musculoskeletal injuries are to those that are wounded in war and how well we take care of those problems and why we think they need to continue to be funded for research as well as just the clinical care for patients,” he said.

The AAOS has enjoyed Congressional support in the past. The organization counted as a friend Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense until his death earlier this year, and hopes to work closely with his successor, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.). The AAOS received substantial funding for the Extremity War Injuries and Disaster Preparedness Project, established in 2006 to help civilian and military surgeons work together to research and treat orthopedic injuries sustained during war or disaster. The group has a significant lobbying presence in the capital, and Callaghan noted that it has one of the medical community’s most active political action committees.

“Orthopedic surgeons are very spirited and trained to promote the great things that we do,” he said.