Cleburne Times-Review, Cleburne, TX

Cleburne

July 10, 2011

Mission: Compassion

Doctor reassembles lives as head and neck surgeon

A blurry-fast sequence of events one November day at a Killeen military installation taught Dylan Bowles something he never got from a textbook at Eastland High, Ranger Junior College or Texas Tech University.

“I learned never to take anything for granted,” the Cleburne physician and former Army major said of the dark day of Nov. 5, 2009.

One moment he was in the Fort Hood hospital cafeteria line, selecting a garden-fresh vegetable. The next moment, he was in the emergency room, separating life from death.

An American-born Muslim gunman identified as Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan was allegedly in the process of killing 13 and wounding as many as 38 in what was termed an act of terror and insanity.

“It wasn’t uncommon to have mass casualty drills at Fort Hood,” Bowles said. “We’d had those routinely at Fort Bragg, where I was also stationed. In fact, I was involved in a mass casualty at Fort Bragg when a motor vehicle turned over in the field. That day at Fort Hood, they called the code for mass casualties. Pagers went on.

“I had just come walking up from the cafeteria. I didn’t know if it was a drill or the real thing. I got my stethoscope and a couple of other things and started walking to the emergency room with a colleague. As we got closer, we saw more activity.”

They realized it was no drill.

“We did what we typically did. We set out a plan,” Bowles said. “I was the head and neck trauma guy. I told the others I would take this bed and any head and neck injuries. One soldier had been shot in the neck and was bleeding out. We took care of him. We stabilized two patients that day. Both survived.”

The scene was little different from a battlefield in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“Because of the severity of that one soldier’s injuries, I was going to ride with him in the helicopter to Scott & White Hospital [in Temple],” said Bowles, who earned the Medal of Valor. “I was out in the middle of the field with sirens going off and people taking cover. It was kind of a surreal experience.

“The odd thing is, you know you’re not in Iraq or Afghanistan. You’re in Texas, at the largest military post in the world. You don’t go to work expecting that kind of stuff.”

Bowles’ extensive training kicked in. He said he was never rattled.

“As chaotic as it was, it was really kind of calm,” he said.

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