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Iraq veteran: A roadside bomb took his legs but not his spirit

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

Ramon Guitard knows he has a purpose.

He was abandoned at birth and found on April 2, 1983, in a Brooklyn, N.Y., backyard.

Twenty-one years later, he survived a roadside bomb during his second tour in Iraq.

After surviving these two near-death experiences, the soldier turned motivational speaker told Horry-Georgetown Technical College students that there must be a reason he’s alive.

Using a PowerPoint presentation, the Andrews High School graduate showed students pictures of his life in the military. With Brian McKnight’s “Red, White and Blue,” playing along, Guitard, now 26, described his early years of service.

After graduating from Andrews High in 2001, he enlisted in the Army and became an aviation power unit repairman. The next year, Guitard was sent to Iraq.

He was in Iraq until 2003, but when he came home, he re-enlisted.

Guitard recalled the moment his superior told him to pack up and get ready to go back.

“I thought it was a joke,” he said.

He was married and his wife was expecting their child any day. After serving one tour in Iraq, he didn’t think he’d have to return.

A month before his daughter, Alecia, was born, Guitard went back to Iraq. He remained safe until Oct. 9, 2004.

On that day, a series of unlikely events occurred. First, Guitard offered to sit in the passenger seat of a large truck with a machine gun.

“What was so strange was that I always drove,” he said.

As he got in the truck, Guitard moved his radio to his left shoulder. While it was unusual for him to place it there, he said he “thought nothing of it.”

When the blast from a roadside bomb shook the vehicle, Guitard’s radio was on the best side for him to radio for help.

He doesn’t remember everything, but does remember a woman behind him screaming “my legs.” As soon as he heard her, he said, he knew his own legs were injured.

A month later, Guitard woke up from a medically-induced coma at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He had lost his right leg. His left leg had lost tendons and too much tissue to fix. As a result, doctors had put steel rods into the leg and fused the joint.

Guitard learned that doctors had revived him twice at a Medevac unit in Baghdad. Shrapnel had hit his femoral artery in his leg, the doctors at Walter Reed told him, but the heat cauterized it.

However, Guitard was bleeding so profusely that doctors in Baghdad gave him a non-FDA approved clotting agent. It stopped the bleeding, but a clot broke off and went to his brain, causing a stroke.

When Guitard woke in November, his speech slurred and his left side was paralyzed.

His vision was also blocked by an eye patch. A rock had flown in and missed his optic nerve, doctors told him, but damaged his eye. They didn’t want to remove it, so it remained inside as a “floater.”

Guitard spent the next 18 months at Walter Reed. He learned how to use his prosthetic leg and walk with a cane. Family visited and Guitard met his daughter Alecia for the first time.

Still, he wasn’t sure about how he would live without one leg. Then he met older and younger veterans who lived without limbs.

“When I was at Walter Reed I saw an 80- or 90-year-old bi-lateral veteran and then saw younger guys in the [prosthetic] legs, so I said, ‘if they can do it, why can’t I?’ ”

With that attitude, Guitard began to bike in marathons.

Before returning home to South Carolina, he finished five: the Marine Corps marathon, the New York City, Miami and Los Angeles marathons, and a marathon in Moscow.

“It was an enjoyable experience to get out there and keep my mind off what happened,” he said.

As soon as doctors let him go, Guitard returned to Columbia. While he applied for college and started taking classes, he struggled with constant infections in his remaining leg.

“In my mind I knew I was going to have my leg taken,” he said, referring to his remaining leg. “I just didn’t know when.”

So when doctors in Columbia told him the recurring infection in his leg needed a central IV of antibiotics rather than pills, Guitard told them to remove it.

“To me it was the best decision ever,” he said.

Doctors removed the leg in February 2008. While the recovery process was painful, two months after the surgery, Guitard started to walk on two prosthetic legs.

When he wants to put them on, he covers the remaining upper portion of his thigh with an airtight bag. Then he puts the first prosthetic piece on top. Finally, he bolts the lower leg at the joint. Sensors in the foot he attaches to the lower leg send information to microchips in the legs. Then the microchips control the flow of hydraulic fluids in the lower legs.

His new legs will end up costing about $56,000.

By June, Guitard said he didn’t need a cane or walker to use his new legs.

“With me there is no limit,” he said. “You only limit yourself.”

With that attitude, Guitard learned how to drive, do yard work, golf, sail, climb ladders and is now learning how to swim.

“I’m like a child. I don’t know when to quit,” he said.

Constantly challenging himself, Guitard purposely fell down in order to learn how to get back on his feet.

He braces himself with one leg and uses the leg to wedge the other half of his body to stand.

If that doesn’t work, he can do a backward flip and land on his feet.

Today, Guitard and his wife Melissa have three children: Shaunta, 9, Alecia, 4, and Ayden, 8 months.

“I wouldn’t be much of anything without my family,” he said.

His family said Guitard’s injuries didn’t affect them, but Melissa indicated that a higher power, and staying motivated, helps her.

“I keep myself motivated and never give up,” Melissa said. “You’ve got to keep trying.”

Today, she and her husband are both in school. Melissa is in the nursing program at South University and Guitard is working on his associate’s degree at Midlands Tech. He will transfer to the University of South Carolina this fall.

Although he doesn’t know what he will major in yet, he does know that he wants to help motivate others.

“I want to give wisdom and courage to people to do the best they can,” he said.

As he finished his talk, Guitard reminded the students that they can’t change the past, but they can work toward their goals in the present. It is just a matter of finding one’s purpose.

“So do you know your purpose?” he asked.

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