Idaho soldier beats the odds after bombing

An IED takes his legs in Afghanistan; six months later, he’s out of the hospital and rehabbing.

kmoeller@idahostatesman.comDecember 20, 2013 

The first time First Lt. Micah Andersen saw his son, Jay, was in late July at Brooke Army Medical Center. This photo was taken Sept. 13.

PROVIDED BY THE ANDERSEN FAMILY

  • WHERE TO SEND CARDS, DONATIONS

    • Cards and letters: Micah and Linzi Andersen, PO Box 1175, Converse, TX 78109

    • Donations: Micah Jay Andersen Medical Fund, Los Alamos National Bank, P.O. Box 60, Los Alamos, NM 87544

    • Follow Micah Andersen’s recovery: The family has set up a Facebook page: www.facebook.com/micahjayfanclub

Micah J. Andersen is now enjoying the simple pleasures of being a father, including feeding and playing with his baby son, Jay.

Jay was born in April while his father — a 30-year-old first lieutenant in the U.S. Army — was deployed to Afghanistan.

Andersen watched the birth live on Skype. A few months later, they met for the first time at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, where Andersen was treated for life-threatening injuries after being struck by an improvised explosive device on a mission in Kandahar.

“He enjoys singing. I sing Christmas carols, and it keeps him quiet and keeps him occupied,” Andersen said by phone from his home near San Antonio.

The Idaho native and 2011 graduate of Boise StateUniversity lost both of his legs and battled a life-threatening infection from a virulent fungus that entered his wounds from the soil. He entered a new phase of his recovery last week after being released from the hospital, and he has begun up to two years of rehabilitation at the Army’s Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio.

He’ll be living at a house in nearby Converse with his wife, Linzi, and their son.

“This is a great day for our family,” Andersen’s father, Jay “Skip” Andersen, told supporters in a Dec. 10 email. “Our prayers have been answered and our hopes realized.”

Andersen’s survival was in doubt from the get-go due to the relentless fungal infection. He’s been through 75 to 80 surgeries, including dozens to clean out infected tissue.

DEEP IDAHO ROOTS

Micah Andersen was born in Arco and spent his early childhood there. His father is from Lost River, his mom from Cascade.

Andersen graduated from a high school in Los Alamos, N.M. Both parents work at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He served three years in the Army, including a year in Iraq, and then went to Boise State on an ROTC scholarship.

His brother, Justin, a former Army paratrooper, also attended BSU.

“They decided to go to Boise State to be close to their aging grandparents,” Skip Andersen said.

The brothers visited their grandparents regularly and helped out when they could. While at Boise State, Micah met and fell in love with a fellow student, Boisean Linzi Bommarito.

They were married after graduating in 2011, and the Army assigned Micah to the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas.

In December 2012, Andersen’s unit in the 1st Armored Division left for a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.

‘WILL TO LIVE’

On June 1, Andersen was leading an infantry platoon in a village in southern Afghanistan.

“Micah took a patrol of 30 soldiers to destroy a weapons cache. On the way back, they encountered an IED ambush,” Skip Andersen said.

Three improvised explosive devices went off. One was under Andersen’s left foot.

Spc. Kyle Stoeckli, a 21-year-old from Virginia, was killed. Anderson and six others were injured.

Two soldiers used Andersen’s pocket knife to render first aid, using tourniquets on his legs to prevent him from bleeding to death, Skip Andersen said. He was treated at a field hospital in Kandahar, and then transported to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan and to Landstuhl in Germany.

Within hours, the Army notified Andersen’s wife in Boise that he’d been critically injured. The situation was so dire that she and his parents were summoned to Germany; officials made sure they got the passports and commercial plane tickets needed to get there.

“Brenda and I got the call at 9:35 in the morning and by 12:30, we were on a plane to Germany,” Skip Andersen said.

When they arrived in Landstuhl, the head of the intensive care unit had news they weren’t expecting.

Good news.

“She said, ‘After I called you,’ his heart and lungs took off like a freight train. He’s doing much better than he was,’ ” Skip Andersen recalled. “His condition changed considerably. I think it was his will to live. His will is so strong.”

“It was palpable. Other people commented on it. That force of will to live was palpable. People that came in the room could sense it.”

MANAGING THE PAIN

At Brooke Army Medical Center, Andersen was kept in a medically induced coma for weeks at a time. In addition to battling the fungus, surgeons had to repair his pelvis, colon, bladder and kidneys.

Both of Andersen’s eardrums had been ruptured by the concussion. One healed on its own, and a piece of muscle from his jaw was used to repair the other.

Pain management has been a challenge.

“He said, initially, the pain was so severe he couldn’t scream,” Skip Andersen said. “For me, as a father, not being able to help with the pain was one of the things that bothered me the most.”

Micah Andersen said he suffers from two distinct types of pain: phantom limb pain, which can be controlled with nerve blockers; and the pain from wound sites, such as around his pelvis.

He said he’s getting better at using medication to manage pain. His pill basket has 18 bottles in it now, including sleeping pills and anti-nausea meds.

“I’ve repeatedly tried to push myself off medications, and my doctors said that was a stupid idea,” he said. “They were right.”

He’s optimistic that as time goes by, his body will recover and the pain will subside. He said he expects to walk again with the aid of prostheses.

Andersen also said he’s considering law school after finishing his rehab, or possibly noncombat jobs in the military.

Expenses that Andersen incurs over the next couple of years beyond what the military covers will be paid for with thousands in donations from individuals and groups.

He and his family are grateful for the generosity they’ve seen.

“I want to thank you for the support,” Micah Andersen said to those who’ve come to his family’s aid. “I’ve never seen anyone getting this much support from family, from friends and from complete strangers who just wanted to help.”

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

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