A former Brookwood High School student and current Army infantryman is in serious condition after his vehicle was the target of a roadside bomb early Monday morning in Afghanistan.
Justin Lansford, a 2007 Brookwood grad, lost his left leg to an amputation and lost his spleen after the explosion and is on a ventilator because of a lung and chest injuries. The 22-year-old also has a lacerated liver, two broken femurs and multiple broken bones in his right leg.
He has undergone two abdominal surgeries, and a third procedure is expected Thursday morning to check his pancreas. Doctors were using Wednesday to wake him up from sedation for a neurological check.
"For awhile there, every phone call we got the news kept getting worse and worse," said Rick Lansford, the soldier's father. "But we finally think he's turned the corner and starting to improve on the critical aspect of his injuries."
He was initially treated at a field hospital, then moved to an air base hospital. He was transported to Germany's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where the majority of injured American soldiers are transferred from the Middle East, on Wednesday morning. If all goes as planned, the Army plans to fly Lansford back to the U.S. on Friday for an extended stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
The latest reports from the Army, which come to Lansford's family every four hours or so, have been much more encouraging than the initial news.
"We can't wait to see him," Rick Lansford said. "You're heartbroken that you can't be there with him. ... It's been tough. He's gotten a lot of blood through all of this. He's gotten over 25 units of blood, over five units of plasma and blood cells."
Lansford was injured when he was driving a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle (commonly known as an MRAP) on a recovery mission to assist a unit with a broken-down vehicle. On the way to that stop, his vehicle struck a roadside bomb and sent it flying.
Because of the severity of the ensuing fight, it took hours for Lansford to be removed from the situation.
"I know it was a lengthy time before they were able to get him out of there," Rick Lansford said.
The Lansfords first got word of their son's injuries with a phone call Monday at roughly 5:45 p.m. Rick took the shocking call and broke the news to his wife Kimberly, who was still at work, when she got home.
"I knew, just from having a son in service, you read about what stuff happens and I knew the Army didn't have any other reason to call," Rick Lansford said. "In the movies, you see that car pull up in the driveway. But if he's injured, it's a phone call. As soon as he said this is Major Davis from Fort Bragg, my first question was, 'How bad is he?' I knew what he was calling for.
"He said, 'He's pretty bad.' I was pretty much an emotional wreck at that point."
The last few days have been spent awaiting phone calls with more details. Each call is filled with medical updates that the couple understand better than most — Rick was a paramedic for 25 years before retiring and Kimberly worked as a trauma nurse.
"In one instance, (our careers) helped because we knew what was going on," Rick said. "On the other hand it makes you afraid. Because you know what's going on."
Lansford has been in the military for three years, following one year in the ROTC program at Georgia State. His father said his plans were to finish his four-year enlistment in the military, return to finish college and then return to the military as an officer.
Those plans are uncertain now as Lansford has a long recovery process ahead of him at Walter Reed.
"He's a good kid and he's always had a positive attitude," Rick Lansford said. "Once he gets over the initial shock of what happened and his condition, he'll find a way to make the most out of his life."
Brookwood head coach Mark Crews remembers that positive outlook from Lansford, who was a junior on Brookwood's 2005 state runner-up football team. He came back recently to visit his former coaches and teachers at Brookwood.
"What a great kid," Crews said. "A good student and a good kid. He was always upbeat and always had a smile on his face. He was still like that when he came back to visit us. He was appreciative of his background, of his coaches and his teachers. He's just an All-American kid."
The recent injury to Lansford brought back familiar, frightened feelings for the Brookwood football program. Former Bronco Jeff Morgan was severely injured in Iraq in 2006 while serving with the Marines. He lost an eye among other injuries but has recovered.
The Brookwood community is hoping for a similar recovery from Lansford.
"I guess it's every military parent's worst nightmare," Crews said. "I'm sure he'll have a long road of rehab ahead of him. We're all thinking about him and we'll do whatever we can to help him and his family out."