VA Hospital doctor is injured veteran himself

MILWAUKEE — This Memorial Day weekend, we will rightly honor those who served our country and paid the ultimate price. One National Guard colonel who survived an attack is determined to help other veterans. What he learned about himself makes him a hero in the hospital.

When he was in college, Kenneth Lee got a call from his father. The conversation was brief and direct. His father didn’t approve of his son taking grant money to pay for tuition. To his father’s pride and his mother’s horror, Lee joined the National Guard and stayed in to help pay for school at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Dr. Lee re-enlisted and became Colonel Lee – the top medical professional in the Wisconsin National Guard. In 2003, his unit was called to Iraq. There were some close calls, but none closer than the one on September 12th, 2004.

“Out of nowhere came a suicide car bomber, straight to us, right into our convoy. Next thing I know I wake up in the ER,” Lee said.

Dr. Lee cannot remember that day, and as he takes FOX6 News on a tour around the VA Hospital, he was almost nonchalant about a photograph of the event that almost took his life.

Dr. Lee looks perfectly fit and strong, but there is a lasting effect from that September day. Dr. Lee suffered a traumatic brain injury, and his short-term memory is still week.

“If I don’t have it down in my Blackberry, even though my wife told me four hours ago it’d be out the window. I’ve been going through a lot of notepads and my secretaries are constant reminders to me. They remind me of a lot of things,” Dr. Lee said.

Remarkably, Dr. Lee’s medical knowledge was in tact. Within months, he was seeing patients again, but things were not quite right at home. He was in denial about how much his injury had affected him emotionally, but his daughter wasn’t.

“The PTSD that i would constantly deny, as a physician it was embarrassing to have the diagnosis, but eventually it came to a halt when my daughter said ‘you don’t smile anymore.’ Bang –  it just hits you,” Dr. Lee said.

Lee the doctor knew he wasn’t done being Lee, the patient. “Once you get the treatment, it’s controllable. I wish I would have asked for this treatment earlier,” Dr. Lee said.

It was his courage to get help and his candor in sharing it that improved his relationship with patients, all of whom have also served our country. “I think I’m a better doctor because of it, at least from a veteran’s standpoint. I’m connecting with the veterans very well,” Dr. Lee said.

That includes bicycle therapy. Dr. Lee’s injuries prevent him from riding upright, but he loves to ride and has made cycling part of his therapy and his patients’ therapy.

The message he has to all those injured in battle is to get back to doing what you love as soon as physically possible. His message to the military: don’t forget that families back home need help too.

“I’m a product of war, I’m not a casualty. My wife and kids are casualities. You created this when you sent me over there. Live with it, but take care of the casualties,” Dr. Lee said.

Dr. Lee says things are great at home since he got help for his PTSD, but he knows a lot of veterans are reluctant to. He hopes by telling his story other veterans will overcome their fears about getting treatment.

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