Tales from the front

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LISA MULLINS: Meanwhile, thousands of skilled US military personnel continue to serve in Afghanistan, some of them serving in military hospitals. About four months ago, an eight-year-old Afghan girl was brought to the military hospital at Bagram air base, her name is Razia. She had been badly burned by white phosphorus, which is used to create smoke screens. It's not clear who's responsible for Razia's burns, there's evidence that the Taliban and coalition forces have used the chemical. Razia underwent 15 operations, yesterday she went home. That's a huge relief to Razia's primary nurse, Captain Christine Collins.

CHRISTINE COLLINS: When she first initially came here, a lot of us, the critical care team, as well as our trauma team, took one look at her and we weren't even sure she was actually alive or not. And her face was charred and burned, very disfigured. Upper body she was about 40 percent, a little over 40 percent total surface body burns. So when I first saw her, she actually was wrapped up like a mummy.

LISA MULLINS: When you were assigned to her case, does that mean that you were part of her 15 surgeries in all? Were you there for the surgeries?

CHRISTINE COLLINS: Oh yeah, I was there for the very first beginning of her surgeries. She was considered a one to one, meaning one patient to one nurse because when you took care of her during your 12 or 13 hours, you really didn't leave her bedside because there was so much that was required of you to care of her.

LISA MULLINS: Is there any doubt that Razia was the victim of white phosphorous attack?

CHRISTINE COLLINS: First and foremost, I'm a registered nurse, a critical care, and that's my specialty. So I really wouldn't be able to comment on whether it was a white phosphorous or how that played into her injuries. What I do know is that she was severely burned, the 40 percent. And what we did as far as taking care of her, saving her life, trying to restore her life into some kind of normalcy.

LISA MULLINS: Can you take us through that process? I mean, you said that she was burned over 40 percent of her body, that's the upper half of her body. When she came in, when you first saw her, she was wrapped up so tightly she was, it was like a mummy. Well what was the process of taking her from these burns to the point where she was released just yesterday?

CHRISTINE COLLINS: Well, with this particular type of burn she received, it stays imbedded within the skin, and it has to be cut out or it continuously burns until it's cut out. So, she was graphed all over her body to where there were no more graph sites that they were able to take from. The donor sites that we had taken from, from her leg, her back, on her buttocks, her thighs, those we were hoping would be successful donor sites as far as taking to her face and to the other areas at which were burned. Well, she did very well. At one point there were just no more sites to be taken from, so then we started using (ellagrapht?) which were cadaver skin.

LISA MULLINS: Captain Collins, I understand that you're a mother, is that correct?

CHRISTINE COLLINS: Yes, that's correct.

LISA MULLINS: How many kids?

CHRISTINE COLLINS: I have three daughters.

LISA MULLINS: My guess is that you've spent a lot of nights taking care of your own children, but as a critical (TALKS OVER) care nurse in Afghanistan now, and you're caring for another daughter in a very different way, I wonder if you can tell us what that was like for you?

CHRISTINE COLLINS: I was able to love her like I love my three daughters, and take care of her. Because every time that I held her, or sang to her, I would think of my own children at the same time.

LISA MULLINS: Did she respond? I mean, at what point could you tell that she was getting better, at least in terms of her own response?

CHRISTINE COLLINS: I noticed that she had not been out of that room since her admission, so I talked to a couple of the medical technicians, and a couple of the other nurses, and I said, "Hey, lets try and get out of bed. Will you help me take her outside to see a different set of scenery outside the nurses station?" And that is where I rocked her for the first time, and I can see her smiling for the first time. At that point, after that, she was a totally different child. So, we started setting little goals, every day I had a different goal for her. The first day was just to stand up, just to stand up at the side of her bed and that just completely wiped her out. And the next day I said, "Okay Razia, we're gonna walk today." And of course we have interpreters that help us, and her father was extremely involved in her care. And I said, okay, we're gonna take three steps. And I remember at first she was crying and she said, "I can't do it. I can't do this." And I said, "No, you can, you can do this." It was just, it was just amazing to be a part of something that's so life changing like this, to see her come almost dead, and to see to her walk out with a smile on her face, knowing that she's gonna go home and see her mom. And to see her walk for the first time, to see her smile for the first time, to see her laugh for the first time. These are all things that I will remember for the rest of my life.

LISA MULLINS: Captain Christine Collins, US Air force Nurse, critical care nurse at the US Military Hospital at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. She's been caring for the eight year old Afghanistan girl named Razia. For about the past three months Razia was released from the hospital just yesterday. Thank you again, captain.

CHRISTINE COLLINS: Thank you very much Lisa.