Who are Brian Kolfage and Winter the Dolphin?
Senior Airman Brian Kolfage was injured by an explosion while deployed in Iraq and lost both legs and an arm. Winter, the Dolphin, was injured after becoming entangled in a crab net and lost her tail and the movable joint just above it.
Brian Kolfage and his buddies had finished their night shift and gone back to their tents to get some rest. Later Brian and some of his buddies were going to get together for a bit of fun. About a half hour or so before they were to get up, an explosion went off in their area. Brian’s buddy, SrA Valentin Cortez, found Brian after being awakened by the explosion.
The best accounting of Brian, the events the day he was injured, and the extent of his injuries was recorded by his buddy in Iraq, SrA Valentin Cortez. Here are some excerpts from his accounting at Blackfive:
“As we ran out we noticed someone lying on the ground approximately two tents from ours. As we approached him it did not click that it was Kolfage. I don’t know if it was because of the dust and debris in the air or because I thought it could never happen to us. It was Higgs who noticed who it was. “Oh my God man its Brian!” These are the words that will be with me forever. I kneeled down next to Kolfage and as I checked on him I thought we had lost him. Shortly after he gasped for air and was conscious from then on. As I attended to his wounds I also tried to keep him from looking at them for fear that it would upset him. However, he looked at me and in a calm and collected voice he said “Man I already know, just get me home to Nikki.”…..
The injuries were severe. His right hand was just torn up as if chewed up. His left hand had a hole from were shrapnel had sliced through it just underneath his thumb. His right leg had been peppered by shrapnel. His left leg, the most severe and life-threatening injury, was almost severed at the hip and just holding on. As I wrapped his hands and applied pressure on his left leg I never stopped talking to him for he almost dozed away a couple of times and I feared he would not wake up again…..
During Kolfage’s surgery the call for blood went out throughout the base and within minutes dozens of soldiers, sailor, marines and airmen responded. People were literally being bussed in, some on bikes and some even running all the way from where they heard the call. Just an incredible site. That day Kolfage made it through surgery but remained in critical condition. We were informed that both his legs and his right hand were amputated but that they were doing everything to save his thumb on his left hand…..
I was allowed to say good-bye but as I approached and saw him on the stretcher with tubes and wires sticking out of him I did not know what to say. I thought back to times we had spent together, to last year when again we both have volunteered to serve in dangerous lands, and remembered a saying by which we motivated ourselves. Knowing this would be the last time I would see him for a long time I leaned over and spoke those words. “We live together. We fight together. We die together. We Band of Brothers.”[my emphasis]
Be sure to go to Blackfive at the link above and read the rest of Brian’s story.
Winter is an Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin now about two years old. When she was found off the coast of Florida by fisherman, she was only about three months old and near death. She was dehydrated and had multiple injuries. Her most severe injury was to her tail. It had been caught in the crab net. As Winter attempted to free herself, her tail was severely damaged. The injuries to her tail were so severe that her tail tissue died from lack of blood and her tail dropped off leaving her with a “stub” for a tail.
Under the constant care of the staff at the marine center in Clearwater, Florida, Winter beat all the odds and survived. But, she is unable to swim fast or perform any of the other feats Dolphins are so renown for doing:
“Without a tail, she can neither swim as fast nor jump as high as a normal dolphin.”
She has taught herself to swim by movements similar to an alligator! Though staff were pleased she survived, they felt that her adaptive swimming techniques might damage her spine. They started searching for help. Their search led them to one of the world’s leading prosthetists, Kevin Carroll:
“Carroll is one of the world’s leading prosthetists. Besides his work with people, he has designed prosthetics for dogs, an ostrich, and even a duck.”
Carroll was quick to agree to try to help Winter. Initially, he did not fully grasp the difficulties he would encounter helping Winter! He soon learned:
“The dolphin’s tail fin is the most powerful swimming mechanism Mother Nature ever designed,” McCulloch said. “When you see how much pressure they put on their flukes, the prosthesis is going to take a marvel of modern engineering.”….
She would need at least three tails as she grows. She is now about 4 feet long and weighs 110 pounds. When she is full grown at age 15, Winter will be twice as long and four times as heavy…..
Carroll finally fitted Winter with a new, prosthetic tail:
“While it’s apparently not perfected just yet, Winter has started to learn to swim with a prosthetic sleeve, which will eventually be outfitted with artificial tail flukes that could allow it to keep pace with other dolphins.”
Winter ought not to have survived her ordeal, yet survive she did! Though she has her own schedule, she cooperates with Carroll and her other benefactors as they attempt to restore her capabilities to that of other dolphins through prosthetics. Her will to survive was nothing short of miraculous. She is the only Dolphin in captivity to survive with such extensive injuries and no tail. Soon she will be able to keep up with the center’s other Dolphins with her new tail.
So what does any of this have to do with Brian Kolfage? Brian was determined to walk again and resume as normal a life as possible. One of the biggest problems he encountered was the painful sensations caused by his prosthetics:
“Lessons can also be learned that will help human amputees. Carroll, for example, found the gel sleeve he developed to cling to 18-month-old Winter’s tail without irritating her sensitive skin also soothed a painful prosthesis for Air Force Senior Airman Brian Kolfage, who lost both legs and his right hand in a 2004 mortar attack in Iraq. The sleeve sticks to Winter’s tail with suction the same way a rubber surgical glove grips a human hand.
“When he tried to walk with prosthetics, you had these dagger-like boney growths sticking into the socket. It was very painful,” Carroll said. “Brian’s situation was similar to Winter’s. Winter helped him and hopefully she’ll help a lot of others as well.”’
Brian Kolfage is an amazing young man. If I am not mistaken he wanted to stay in the Air Force. However that wasn’t possible. Like all our troops, he showed courage on the battlefield. Like all our injured warriors, he showed his greatest courage off the battlefield, in the wards of his hospital as he recovered from his massive injuries sustained in Iraq. His positive attitude and refusal to allow his injuries to best him are an inspiration to others.
Brian refused to be wheel chair bound the rest of his life. With determination and a great deal of personal character he became the first amputee with injuries so severe to walk again. His struggle and determination has led to many improvements in prosthetics for himself and others with similar injuries. He has since married and is now employed as a base security manager at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona.
Like many wounded Veterans, he had problems fighting the “red tape” at the V.A.; but, he enlisted the help of the Wounded Warrior Project through a representative of the organization that he met as a patient at Walter Reed Hospital. After 16 surgeries and his rehab his relies completely on his prosthetics.
Read More about Brian Kolfage:
- ***“Coming back from war”
- “Airman Brian Kolfage has great attitude despite huge losses”
- “Valour-IT Blogging Fundraiser Competition”
- “Senior Airman Brian Kolfage – Air Force “Cop” – Someone You Should Know”
- “Dolphin and Iraq veteran share wonder of prosthetics”
- “Surviving and thriving”
- “A military love story”
- “Science aids airman on path to mobility”
- “Brian Kolfage”
- ” Airman Brian Kolfage has great attitude despite huge losses”
- “Brian Kolfage”
- “War Wounds”
- “Dolphin’s new tail can help human amputees”
- “Dearborn Heights Airman part of Air Force history”
- ****“She’s a fighter”
Read more about Winter:
Winter the dolphin gets fitted with prosthetic tail
- “Bionic” Dolphin Getting New Tail
- ‘Winter’ may get a prosthetic tail
- “Winter (the Dolphin) Swims with Prosthetic Flipper”
- Clearwater Marine Aquarium