Monday, Dec. 15, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Francisco Pinedo, chief of prosthetics at the VA hospital, lost part of his right arm in an ambush in Iraq when he was a 25-year-old Army staff sergeant. Now he is in charge of equipping veterans with prostheses such as hearing aids, implants and artificial limbs.
How did you lose your arm?
On one side of the Tigris River in Mosul, the insurgents would fire off mortars. Our job as infantry was to ambush them. The insurgents learned they couldn’t damage our vehicles, so they started going after people poking up from the hatch. One day they placed explosives on a telephone pole at that height, and it got me. I immediately knew I was going to lose my arm. I was conscious the whole time.
Would you still be in the military if it hadn’t happened?
No. There was only a few months left on my contract before I deployed, and I had a job lined up with the San Diego Police Department. I had just gotten married and my wife didn’t want to be a part of the Army life.
Why this job?
My wife convinced me during rehab, when I was in a dark mood, to meet a Vietnam vet with a prosthetic hook. He was older and successful, and I thought: I can bounce back and do this. Turns out he is in charge of prosthetics for the VA and he asked me what I planned on doing when I left.
Do you share your experience with the people who come see you?
I do, and it’s therapeutic. I’m able to connect with people in the same stage I was in four years ago. I can show them there is life after amputation. One of the things they’re going through is: What now? I had a plan for my life and now all of a sudden its all turned upside down. I think they walk away with a sense that things are going to be OK.
Do they seek advice about using the limb?
Absolutely, like how to tie a tie with one hand, or open jars.
What’s their main concern?
They want to know: Who’s going to take care of me? Provide me with the latest and greatest? Is the American public going to forget about me?