In the midst of an early morning Taliban attack in the poppy fields of Afghanistan, the Marine Corps scout sniper assistant team leader heard one of his teammates behind him shout, “I’m hit!” Instinctually, the Marine cocked his head to the left, while maintaining a steady flow suppressive fire towards the enemy and barked back, “Doc someone’s hit!” That’s when Christopher Marsh, aka “Doc” responded, “Yeah, I know. It’s me! Get over here!”
Chris had been serving as a Fleet Marine Force Navy Corpsman stationed with the Marines for his second combat tour in Afghanistan when he was shot in the left forearm during a Taliban ambush, shattering his ulna and denying his team their medical support. Upon his return to base, and while waiting for the CASEVAC, Chris refused anything stronger than Tylenol in order to preserve supplies for someone who might be in worse condition. His wound was debrided and washed out several times over the course of 2 weeks while he was transferred from Afghanistan to Germany and, finally, to Naval Medical Center San Diego.
It wasn’t until he arrived at the hospital in San Diego that he was able to see his wound fully and understand the extent of his injury, which was a lot worse than he had originally perceived. Chris was unprepared for the response he received when he asked his doctors for the worst-case scenario; they said that he could lose his arm. He had to quickly shift his expectations and mindset to align with the extensive reconstruction and rehabilitation that would be required for his recovery. During an extensive 5-hour reconstructive procedure, his doctors determined that Chris’ ulnar nerve was still functioning and that a nerve graft or amputation, the worst-case scenario, wouldn’t be necessary. He underwent a total of eight different surgeries, including an ulna allograft from a cadaveric donor and split thickness skin autografts. This was followed by 12 laser surgeries to minimize scarring and extensive rehabilitation and occupational therapy over the following year.
During his recovery, he went on to compete in the 2012 Warrior Games held in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He participated in many different events, including marksmanship, wheelchair basketball, seated volleyball, and brought home a gold medal in the 200-meter freestyle relay. Motivated to prove wrong those people who cautioned that he might never use his hand again, he met every functional milestone set for his recovery. With only a couple weeks to spare before the 1 year anniversary of his injury and his appointment with the Medical Evaluation Board, he was declared fit for duty and reenlisted. He received a Purple Heart for his injury and went on to be deployed to the Philippines, where he served in humanitarian efforts.
Chris first learned of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs after one of his former teammates at the Warrior Games reached out to him about participating as a consumer reviewer. He served on his first review panel in fiscal year 2016. Since then, he has served on six panels across four programs, most extensively for the Reconstructive Transplant Research Program (RTRP). Combining his training as a military medical provider and a Wounded Warrior, Chris offers a unique perspective to the panels on which he serves. He finds his participation on the RTRP peer review panel to be both challenging and rewarding. His own experience with reconstructive surgery provides him with insight into the field, but he has learned so much more from the proposals he has reviewed, as well as from his fellow reviewers. Chris was impressed with the scientific expertise of his fellow panel members, as well as their dedication to the field and the detail they put into their reviews.
Chris has returned to school to pursue a career as a Physician’s Assistant, with plans to focus on trauma or orthopedic surgery. He hopes to continue to serve as a consumer reviewer for the RTRP. In Chris’ words: “All kinds of medical developments have come out of the last 15 years of conflict, and that’s driven by these types of programs that are designed to ensure that we’re doing right by our Warriors and taking care of them when they come home. We’re taking care of those who sacrificed for our country, and I’m very proud to be a part of it.”
Last updated Thursday, October 8, 2020