“The Altruistic Component:” Doctor Joined Army After Seeing How San Antonio Treated His Injured Brother

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It was a busy morning in the emergency room at Brooke Army Medical Center when paramedics brought an apparently elderly patient to one of the facility’s 60 treatment bays.

He was in great difficulty.

The man was staring at the ceiling, his eyes fixed. At first it was not clear if he was conscious or even could see – he certainly couldn’t speak, paramedics reported, but understood the questions.

“Can you lift that leg, sir?” Army Captain Juliette Conte asked. “Can you lift that leg?” Very well very well. This one, how are you? Okay. Can you give me a thumbs up here? Can you give me a hand? Very well.

“And on that side? “

The patient was found to be suffering from the effects of a previous stroke. Conte, one of the two attending physicians on the emergency day shift, had previously helped treat three trauma patients – one stabbed and two in car accidents.

Emergency medicine resident Cody Newell, left, reviews patient charts with attending physician Army Capt.Juliette Conte at Brooke Army Medical Center earlier this month.

Sam Owens / San Antonio Express-News

It was a typical weekday for Conte, now three and a half years into his career as a medical officer. Inspired by the care her brother received at BAMC and Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston after being seriously injured in a grenade explosion in Afghanistan, she got involved.

A graduate of ROTC from Rutgers University, Lt. John Conte was wounded on August 5, 2011 while serving as the 10th Mountain Division Infantry Platoon Leader helping to secure Charkh District in the eastern Afghanistan.

Violence was a way of life in the district, located nearly 7,000 feet above sea level and near the Khyber Pass, used by insurgents as a route into and out of Pakistan.

“There was a lot of kinetic activity, of guerrilla warfare, of unconventional warfare, it was a lot of night missions, a lot of day missions,” recalled the army sergeant. 1st Class Daniel Badillo, a Chicago native who was part of the platoon. “It was quite volatile because at that point they wanted to take control of the local population and it just wasn’t something that was allowed. It was not in our plans.

The Afghan army complicated matters. According to Badillo, the Americans had to “force” to take the head of the security missions. On the day of the attack, Afghans operated tactical security checkpoints at a town market, searching residents.

“They weren’t as thorough as we would have liked in securing incoming and outgoing personnel, and it turns out that one individual sneaked in with a homemade explosive and was close enough to release this grenade,” said Badillo. noted.

The explosion hit the center of their position.

Army Capt. Juliette Conte speaks with a patient while touring as an attending physician in the emergency room at Brooke Army Medical Center earlier this month.

Army Capt. Juliette Conte speaks with a patient while touring as an attending physician in the emergency room at Brooke Army Medical Center earlier this month.

Sam Owens / San Antonio Express-News

Badillo, a combat medic trained at Fort Sam, reacted because of muscle memory. Within seconds, he ranked Conte the second most wounded soldier.

“He had shrapnel, lower limbs, shrapnel with bleeding, so it was immediately treated with bleeding control. The next one was unconscious, ”said Badillo, now 46 and the NCO in charge of the West Point Cadet Clinic. “And the third was very close to the (grenade) and he had lacerations … on his skull so that was the most extreme case.” He was No. 1.

The terrifying news

Juliette Conte followed her brother’s deployment during one of the most rigorous periods of her time as an undergraduate student at Columbia University. The tension she felt for her brother was heartbreaking.

Before his deployment, Conte told his sister – but not their parents – where he was going. In her calls home, Conte held back, shielding her from the worst of violence.

Emergency medicine resident Cody Newell, left, reviews patient charts with attending physician Army Capt.Juliette Conte at Brooke Army Medical Center earlier this month.

Emergency medicine resident Cody Newell, left, reviews patient charts with attending physician Army Capt.Juliette Conte at Brooke Army Medical Center earlier this month.

Sam Owens / San Antonio Express-News

“Actually, he didn’t tell me about the 11 soldiers, unfortunately, who were KIA, but he did mention that they were in a firefight … and that he himself had close calls before his injury does happen, ”she said.

“We’re extremely close, he’s halfway around the world and all I know is that once a week I get a phone call telling me he’s still alive, and so on. of the week, I’m like, ‘I wonder what he’s doing? I wonder if he’s alive? “

Then word came via a brief message – on Facebook – “from one of his soldiers in the platoon who said:” Your brother was just the victim of a grenade explosion today and he was evacuated. “”, she recalls. “And that’s the only information I had, and it was especially terrifying to me.”

John Conte’s injuries were serious but not debilitating. BAMC was his ultimate destination. During summer vacation researching when he was injured, Juliette Conte joined her family in Annapolis, Md., And they flew to San Antonio, arriving the same day he did.

His shrapnel wounds included his face, as well as his arms and legs. None required surgery. The shrapnel in his legs raised concerns due to the swelling, but his hospital stay was short – overnight.

Conte stayed at the Powless Guest House in Fort Sam for a few weeks for rehabilitation and physical therapy. He then returned to his own quarters at Fort Polk, Louisiana, his substantive post, but that didn’t mean he was 100% back.

Shrapnel encrusted in the flesh often comes out, sometimes for months or even years, after an injury, and that was – and remains – true for him.

Attending physician Army Capt.Juliette Conte, center, works with a handful of emergency medicine residents and nurses to assess a new patient inside the emergency room at Brooke Army Medical Center at the beginning of the month.

Attending physician Army Capt.Juliette Conte, center, works with a handful of emergency medicine residents and nurses to assess a new patient inside the emergency room at Brooke Army Medical Center at the beginning of the month.

Sam Owens / San Antonio Express-News

“It’s still happening,” Juliette Conte said. “He has a pot, a collection. And the shrapnel still comes out.

That his brother’s service shaped his own career was not surprising given the family’s long military history.

Conte’s father was in the military during the Vietnam War. An uncle was also a soldier. During World War II, his maternal grandfather was awarded the Purple Heart, and his paternal grandfather served in the Italian Navy.

“I think it was a decision that was slowly brewing for a long time, but it was definitely the decisive thing,” Conte said of his brother’s injury. “We have a strong military family and serving your country is always something I admire and respect. I think when I was younger… I focused more on science and healthcare, but I had immense respect and admiration for the military.

Save those who served

Conte entered the Individual Ready Reserve in 2014. At the State University of New York Downstate Health Sciences University School of Medicine in Brooklyn, she was part of a health scholarship program until she was appointed captain in 2018. BAMC is her first posting.

His brother left the military as a first lieutenant a few years after deployment and is now a corporate refinancing lawyer in New York City.

By chance, she ran into Badillo, the doctor who looked after him, during a three-month COVID-19 response mission that ended in mid-October in Little Rock, Ark. Recognizing his last name, he asked if Conte had a brother. .

“I was very overwhelmed. I was really speechless and just gave Sgt. Badillo a big hug. What words can you say to the person who saved your brother’s life? she said.

Badillo called it “one of those types of once in a lifetime moments.”

Army Captain Juliette Conte asks a patient to shake her hand as she assesses her cognitive and physical functioning inside the emergency room at Brooke Army Medical Center earlier this month.

Army Captain Juliette Conte asks a patient to shake her hand as she assesses her cognitive and physical functioning inside the emergency room at Brooke Army Medical Center earlier this month.

Sam Owens / San Antonio Express-News

“You would never think you would meet,” he said. “That was correct, I think, by now almost 10 years had passed.”

Joining the military came down to job satisfaction. Serving in the military would allow him to “selflessly treat and care for … patients who have been wounded in the service of their country,” Conte said.

“Medically, I treat all of my patients equally, no matter who they are,” she said. “But in terms of personal satisfaction, personal growth, treating soldiers is certainly what gives me the most fulfillment and the members of their families.”

At the BAMC, she sees soldiers, dependents and more than a few civilians in the hospital’s trauma department. Emergency departments admitted 4,768 trauma patients in 2020, up 8% from 2019. This number has risen sharply since the start of the year, with 5,600 trauma patients admitted.

Conte supervises others as an attending physician. She has had to declare patients dead, and her heart sinks when she sees people suffering from a poor quality of life.

“It’s tough for everyone, but I think we have a big family in the ER, and we all support each other, we all check on each other a lot. It’s not that we’re used to seeing this stuff, but I think we’re all used to supporting each other through it, ”Conte said.

That Conte remains in the military is an as yet unwritten chapter in his life. She was not deployable during her residency at BAMC, but can now travel overseas. This opens the door to the real start of a military career which is due to end in 2025.

His current role seems to suit him perfectly. It’s a place where job satisfaction, a stimulating environment and camaraderie intersect.

“It is not so much a brotherhood, (it is) a degree of respect and admiration for those who selflessly put themselves in danger for the well-being of others or to serve others or protect others.” , said Conte. “It’s the altruistic component that really speaks to me. “

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