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A medic's turn to be healed

He used to be the soldier who took care of others. Now, as his leg wound mends, others take care of him.

By KAMEEL STANLEY
Published May 25, 2007


Andrew Harriman (center) navigates a gathering of media representatives, friends and former co-workers during his welcome home party Thursday at Pinellas County's Sunstar headquarters in Largo.
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[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford ]
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[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
Maureen Tardis of Seminole visits with Andrew Harriman during a party to welcome Harriman home.

When Army Spc. Andrew Harriman left for the war in Iraq, he went as a medic who would save fellow soldiers' lives.

Now, with his left leg nearly shattered by four machine gun rounds, he's learning what it's like to be on the receiving end of medical care.

"It definitely gives me a whole new respect for being on the patient side," he said. "It gets frustrating, and it gets hard."

But that frustration didn't surface Thursday afternoon. As the 23-year-old soldier sat at a small table shaded by an umbrella, dozens of well-wishers crowded in to shake hands and chat.

Before he joined the Army in December 2002, Harriman had been an emergency medical technician surrounded by a tight-knit group of medics from the county and SunStar ambulance service.

The crew gave him a hero's welcome at a homecoming celebration.

"Knowing him, he probably doesn't think he did a big thing," said Chuck Kearns, the county's director of emergency medical services and fire administration. "He's an extraordinary guy. He took care of our citizens when he worked here, and he took care of our nation. We're just glad he's back."

The road home wasn't easy, though.

Harriman, who left for Iraq in August, was shot March 26 in Iraq while he was trying to get into a helicopter.

A month later, on April 25, the Times profiled him in a story days after he learned that nine of his fellow paratroopers were killed by a suicide bomber near Baghdad. At the time, he was recovering from his leg wounds at Fort Bragg.

This month, the Army released him to return home for convalescent leave until June 23.

The brief homecoming has been bittersweet, Harriman said.

It's left him torn between being happy to be alive and feeling that he should be back in Iraq with his brothers.

"It's hard to be here," he said. "It's just a difficult thing to grasp."

Not having all of his independence gets hard, too.

A black boot encases Harriman's left leg almost to the knee. He can take the soft cast off sometimes, but has to use crutches to get around.

He had eight surgeries at Fort Bragg and faces at least another year of recovery.

By that time, his unit - the 82nd Airborne - should be back in the states, so Harriman won't go back to Iraq and should be out of the Army in a few months.

Having Harriman back in one piece has been a relief for the people in his life.

"I sleep much better at night," said his mother, Chloe. "I'm really proud of the way he's come through this incident."

Harriman's ties to the medical field and to Largo go deep. He attended Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg. His mother is a nurse and his father, Ben, recently retired as a pathologist.

As a teenager, he spent his time volunteering at hospitals and shadowing the people at SunStar.

"It takes a special person," said Charlene Cobbs, SunStar's educational coordinator, who took Harriman under her wing. "He's a caregiver."

The pain and cast on his leg don't let Harriman forget that for now, at least, he's also a patient.

But months of rehabilitation and recovery don't daunt Harriman, and he plans to pick up where he started in another year.

He wants to go to paramedic school and get back into the field.

And he'd be welcome.

"We hope that he can recover and come back here and work for us," Kearns said.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or 727 445-4158.

[Last modified May 24, 2007, 22:51:27]


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