A Bakersfield soldier critically wounded in Afghanistan a month ago says his recovery is progressing nicely and, despite a nearly fatal head wound, considers himself lucky.
Doctors weren't sure Lt. Samuel Van Kopp would survive the Sept. 26 suicide bomb attack that killed two other American soldiers. Now, he says on his Facebook page, "Every day I get a bit stronger." He says he may return to active duty in the Army.
Van Kopp, 24, is a 2006 graduate of Bakersfield High School who went on to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point before being deployed to combat.
He was on patrol near Pul-E Alam, Afghanistan when a suicide bomber detonated a vest full of explosives and ball bearings near him on Sept. 26. One ball bearing ripped through Van Kopp's head. Staff Sgt. Orion N. Sparks, 29, of Tucson, Arizona, and Sgt. Jonathan A. Gollnitz, 28, of Lakehurst, New Jersey, were killed in the attack.
Van Kopp was taken to a hospital in Germany, then to Walter Reed Medical Center near Washington, D.C. He says he'll go back to Walter Reed next week for further surgery aimed at repairing his vision.
Here is the full content of his Facebook page:
I've been in the Richmond VA for the last couple of days. This is an old facility with a driven staff who facilitate rehabilitation therapies 7 hours a day. Every day I get a bit stronger in their care.
My problems with reading persist, particularly with text back-lit on a TV or computer screen. The optometrists at Walter Reed believe my problems are two-fold. The ball-bearing that went into my brain is lodged in a place where it doesn't seem to be doing much harm, and the neurosurgeons have decided to leave it in place.
The body will likely coat the fragment with tissue over time, further isolating it. But it did pass through the area of my brain associated with vision, and also nicked the optical nerve. The second problem is that the gel behind my cornea that forms the bulk of the eyeball was agitated by the force of the explosion. The ophthalmologists believe that it may take a few months for the gel to settle and my normal eyesight to return.
Past that my problems are physiological.
I'm weak. At 5'11", in Afghanistan I weighed around 190 lbs. Now I punch in at 155.
I can walk for an hour or so, bike for half that, but then I need a break. Despite being generously medicated, nausea and vertigo sometimes get the better of me.
Weight-lifting and running right now would be more humorous than productive.
These are all First World Problems.
I'm surrounded, as I was at Walter Reed, by men who gave far more, whose wounds are monstrous and terrifying yet borne with a stoicism that shames me.
I am very fortunate. I am reminded such when I think of SSG Sparks and SGT Gollnitz, whose memorial service at Schweinfurt occurred on the 23rd.
I think also of my platoon in Afghanistan, still running combat patrols against a determined enemy who engages them daily. All sides have an eye out for the first snows that will signal the end of the fighting season. But it hasn't snowed yet.
On the 31st of October, I will return to Walter Reed. There the ENT doctors will remove the packing from my right ear canal, and will assess whether I can fly, or whether I need to remain in Richmond a few more weeks.
If the former, a small army of social workers, army liaisons, and health care administrators will decide whether I go to the VA Hospital in Palo Alto, to a Warrior Transition Brigade at a nearby Army Post, or home for outpatient care as a Medical Examination Review Board determines if I am to stay in the Army, return to my unit, or reclassify to a branch that doesn't involve jumping out of airplanes.
For now my future, like everyone else's, remains unknown.
I am continually overawed by the support that my family and I have received, from friends all over Bakersfield and the United States.
I can't articulate how much easier recovery is when you know that a legion of people stand behind you.
I don't know how anyone gets by without it. My Mom is typing this, but I hope soon to be able to write back to the messages and letters I have received. Thank you so very much.
"Godspeed," he concluded.