HomeNewsArticle Display

'We're your family here'

Retired U.S. Army Capt. Katie Blanchard speaks with a nurse before surgery Sept. 6 at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. Blanchard was injured in a workplace violence incident that left third degree burns on her face, head, arms, neck, back and chest.

Retired Army Capt. Katie Blanchard speaks with a nurse before surgery, Sept. 6, 2019, at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Blanchard was injured in a workplace violence incident that left third degree burns on her face, head, arms, neck, back and chest. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

Retired U.S. Army Capt. Katie Blanchard squeezes the hand of Col. (Dr.) Chad Hivnor, 59th Medical Specialty Squadron laser medicine chief, after surgery Sept. 6 at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. Blanchard estimates she has undergone nearly 200 surgeries since she was burned in a workplace violence incident three years ago.

Retired Army Capt. Katie Blanchard squeezes the hand of Col. (Dr.) Chad Hivnor, 59th Medical Specialty Squadron laser medicine chief, after surgery Sept. 6, 2019 at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Blanchard estimates she has undergone nearly 200 surgeries since she was burned in a workplace violence incident three years ago. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

Burn scars are visible as retired U.S. Army Capt. Katie Blanchard awaits surgery Sept. 6 at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. Blanchard underwent fractionated carbon dioxide laser surgery to treat her injuries.

Burn scars are visible as retired Army Capt. Katie Blanchard awaits surgery Sept. 6, 2019, at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Blanchard underwent fractionated carbon dioxide laser surgery to treat her injuries. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas (AFNS) --

"Where is your husband deployed to?"

"Korea. Just a couple more months."

"Well, we're your family here."

Her smile is infectious and she directs it at everyone who comes into the room — nurses, doctors, technicians — her family here. Retired Army Capt. Katie Blanchard is thousands of miles from her home on what she jokingly calls the "useless animal farm" in Olympia, Washington, where she lives with her husband, their three sons and lots of rescued animals that "don't pay their rent."

"We told them (her sons) early on what had happened to me and that's difficult for them to comprehend: why people would ever hurt another person, especially their mom," Blanchard said. "They like to make up stories about me being a dragon or the dragon lady, some kind of superhero theme, usually. They like to tell people that I have superpowers and that I'm different but it's because I'm a superhero."

"It's hard for them if I can't go out and play because I can't be out in the sun; or when I'm recovering and I can't do everything that ‘normal’ moms do."

"When this happened," Blanchard gestures to her burn scars, "my family and I agreed we wanted to be with Soldiers and to continue care here (in San Antonio). We knew they had great burn care here."

She has lost count, but she believes she is close to her 200th surgery in the three years since a workplace violence incident left third degree burns on her face, head, arms, neck, back and chest.

"I have surgeries about every other month now," Blanchard said.

Air Force Col. (Dr.) Chad M. Hivnor, 59th Medical Specialty Squadron chief of laser medicine, and his team have been with her through many of them. The surgery he performs with fractionated carbon dioxide lasers is a burn treatment technique he pioneered at the start of the Iraq War.

Hivnor describes the treatment as a "breaking up" of old scar tissue, allowing newer, healthier scar tissue to form. The goal, which has been evidentially proven in hundreds of seriously burned war veterans, is to improve her range of motion, pain and the skin's appearance.

The procedure is offered in less than a handful of facilities and is virtually exclusive to the Defense Department. In between Blanchard's treatments here, Hivnor collaborates with her doctors back at Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, to continue her care.

"Captain Blanchard came all the way from Washington state and that's not abnormal," Hivnor said. "People come here from all over the country. There are few places that have an (operating room) and do this, that have the technology, number one, but also the knowledge, number two. We've been doing this for 12 years, that's a lot different than someone picking it up and giving it a try."

The procedure requires three doctors and three lasers working simultaneously for two hours on the burns across her body.

As she emerged from surgery and awoke from the anesthesia in pain from the laser burns, she turned toward Hivnor's calming voice and reached for the comfort of his hand. Her hand grasping his shook, her feet clenched, she whispered "it burns," over and over.

Hivnor only took his hand away to gently smooth ice-water soaked cloth and Vaseline over her skin.

"It's very painful for a burn patient to have CO2 surgery and the recovery period is really difficult," Blanchard said. "Having someone there that you know and you trust, makes a world of difference."

While her husband is deployed, Blanchard's nurse, Lamona Whaley, acts as her caretaker. When Blanchard has recovered enough to be discharged, Whaley takes her to the Fisher House to rest. As Blanchard gets dressed, she and Whaley chat about what she might want for dinner.

Before she leaves, Hivnor checks on her one more time.

"You have my cell phone number. If the pain gets too much, if you don't want to be alone, if you need anything at all — call me.

"My wife and I have seven children, we'll put them to work waiting on you hand and foot."
 

Engage

Facebook Twitter
RT @AETCommand: Airmen from the 29th AMU check over the first MQ-9 Reaper to be transported through ferry flight, Jan. 8, 2020, on @Holloma
RT @DeptofDefense: The cold won’t slow down the @usairforce! The Air Force is working with the @usarmyccdc to test cold weather gear and e…
RT @USAFCENT: GROUND SUPPORT | USAF Airmen assigned to the 379th AEMS worked alongside the 746th EAS to load cargo onto & launch a C-130 at…
RT @USAFHealth: #DidYouKnow, Air Force Expeditionary Medicine brings leading-edge medicine directly into battle providing injured personnel…
As he served, let us serve. Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day. https://t.co/SuE0D4UAnI
RT @AirNatlGuard: "We talk about lining ourselves up with our sister services and joint efforts to make sure we accomplish our mission; the…
RT @AFResearchLab: The year is 1947. The @usairforce officially broke the sound barrier with the Bell X-1 aircraft. This incredible feat w…
RT @theF35JPO: Congratulations to the @AusAirForce for completing their #F35 training mission at @LukeAFB! 🇦🇺 ⚡ Learn more 🔗 https://t.co/2…
RT @CENTCOM: A French Rafale conducts nighttime air refueling with a U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender assigned to the 380th Air Expeditionary…
RT @DeptofDefense: Jumping from a plane becomes a big step toward friendship. 301 soldiers and airmen from @USArmyReserve, @usairforce, and…
Explosive Disposal Ordnance (EOD) Airmen are often assigned to some of the most dangerous missions and perform tact… https://t.co/xYc9Ip5psn
Start this year by supporting your #Airmen in their pursuit of #resiliency. Learn about common triggers of invisibl… https://t.co/6gJSfJKvcK
RT @OHNationalGuard: The @180thFW hosted members of the Nigerian Air Force recently Officers visited the 180FW in search of #bestpractice
RT @HiAirGuard: Airmen from 154th Security Forces Squadron became first responders during a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear…
RT @US_SOCEUR: U.S. #airmen assigned to the 352d Special Operations Wing perform maintenance on a CV-22B #Osprey aircraft in Szolnok, #Hung
RT @HQ_AFMC: The @AFResearchLab s X-60A program achieved a key developmental #milestone with the completion of integrated vehicle propulsio…
RT @DeptofDefense: If you want to get there as fast as possible, don’t stop for gas. ⛽ That’s why the @usairforce relies on airmen like Tec…
RT @DeptofDefense: Press ▶️ to learn more about @USAFCENT, the command that provides air & space warfighting capabilities to help defeat v…
Airmen with the Puerto Rico Air National Guard provide support at the “tent cities” to support Task Force South and… https://t.co/zg2yT0LqpS
Even the most advanced aircraft in history requires extensive maintenance performed by Airmen on the ground to kee… https://t.co/Kpv8JlzYIc