Female Soldier's Recovery Called a 'Miracle'

Dec. 4, 2004 — -- Jessica Clements never told her mother what it was really like Iraq.

She smiled in the pictures she sent home, and said nothing about the bombings or the bodies she saw.

"I think I was very vague," said 27-year-old Clements, an Army staff sergeant. "I never went into detail because I didn't want her to worry any more than I know she already would be."

Jessica's mother, Kim Wyatt, who works at an Ohio nursing home, was worried about her daughter but didn't fully realize the dangers she faced.

"Her letters were always upbeat," said Wyatt. "The only thing she told me was that it was really dirty. ... She was always, 'Fine, everything's going great.'"

Then came May 5.

Wyatt got the call at 10:30 that morning.

"I don't know who called me," she said. "I just remember the phone call, and he told me that Jess was injured in an accident, and I dropped the phone ... and took off running."

Clements' truck had been hit by a roadside bomb near Baghdad. She had taken shrapnel in her hip and back, and, much more serious, to the right side of the brain. She had been in Iraq just five months.

A Grim Prognosis

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Poffenbarger operated on Clements in Baghdad.

"The situation was fairly desperate," said Poffenbarger, a neurosurgeon normally based in San Antonio. "The bleeding was ongoing, the brain was swelling and I really had a lot of concern that potentially she might die on me on the operating table."

The prognosis was grim -- doctors believed Clements' chances of survival were slim, at best.

"I asked them if she was alive, and they said she was, [but] they didn't give us any hope," Wyatt remembers.

After the operation in Baghdad, Clements, who was still in a coma, was flown to a military hospital in Germany to be stabilized for the long trip back to the United States.

A doctor in Germany, believing Clements didn't stand a chance, sent Poffenbarger an e-mail asking why he sent her.

Poffenbarger sent back his reply: "I said, 'This one's special. ... Stick with her, get her to America. I think she's going to wake up.'"

Clements finally did come out of the coma, but it was two weeks later. She awoke at Walter Reed Army Medical Center near Washington, D.C., and she was in agony.

Surgeons had temporarily removed part of her skull to protect her brain from swelling. She was often exhausted, dizzy and had awful headaches, but Clements eventually began a rigorous course of physical therapy to help her regain some of what she had lost.

"It was more of a survival thing for me," she said. "How am I going to get through this? How am I going to get my damn leg to move? It won't move. I remember thinking to myself, 'I'm moving my leg but it's not going anywhere.'"

Long Road to Recovery

Like many people with a brain injury, Clements has no memory of the day she was hurt.

But the people treating her, some of whom gave her a 2 percent chance of survival, say something remarkable has happened.

Lt. Col. Rocco Armonda, a neurosurgeon who treated her at Walter Reed, said, "Her recovery has been so steep and so dramatic that ... she may in fact recover to near 100 percent."

Clements still has a long way to go. She had to undergo more surgery just a week ago, and she's fighting the military for better benefits.

But there are hopeful and joyous moments. Her boyfriend, Greg Ramos, who promised to wait for her when she left for Iraq, proposed to her over the summer.

"She's herself," said Ramos. "I mean, she laughs, and we joke around, the same way we did before she left, so it feels to me that she's back to herself."

Clements' mother, who has spent countless hours by her daughter's bedside, couldn't be more grateful. "It's definitely a miracle. We got us a miracle," said Wyatt.

And the doctors who have treated her and continue to treat her still call her their "Miracle Girl."

ABC News' Ned Potter reported this story for World News Tonight on Nov. 28, 2004.

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