On Christmas day ten years ago, Navy soldier Dustin Kirby was serving in Karmah, Iraq when he was shot in the face by a sniper.
He has spent every single day of his life since in agony. “I put on my gear, swung my rifle over my shoulder and when I took one step outside of the post everything went white,” Kirby said. “I had no idea what happened. I noticed when I tried to speak I sounded funny. Then, I put my hand out and one drop of blood hit my hand followed by more blood than I had seen in my entire life.”
“I was gathering pieces of meat and a bunch of debris in a little pile on the floor. I had no idea how bad it really was until I reached down and picked up an entire tooth with jaw still attached,” the now 32-year-old said. Kirby worked as a Navy hospital corpsman 2nd class, and managed to get to the aid station and apply bandages and administer an IV drip before he was airlifted to surgery to be stabilized.
Kirby was then sent to hospitals in Germany, Maryland, and finally home in Georgia where he underwent 30 surgeries to rebuild his jaw with metal screws, but nothing helped his pain. “Sometimes it hurt just to breathe. I had basically given up hope that I would ever stop feeling pain,” Kirby said.
Finally, in October 2015, Kirby went to New York and met Dr. David Hirsch, who was asked to help by the Marine Assist program, which provides plastic surgery and dental reconstruction to Marine veterans. “His jaw wasn’t aligned, he had infected hardware and metal holding things together, he lost a lot of salivary gland function and his teeth were decaying,” Hirsch said. In April, Kirby underwent another surgery where his jaw was re-broken and sawed down, and had metal removed.
“I’ll never forget waking up after surgery, opening my mouth and feeling just amazing. The pain that had become a part of me was gone,” said Kirby. Then in October, Kirby underwent his second surgery with Hirsch and was given new dental implants and teeth. For the first time in a decade, Kirby had his smile back. “Without question, this will be the best Christmas I’ll have since that day. Even though there will always be a dark cloud for me during Christmas, I’ll finally be able to smile for my kids,” the father of four said.
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[Featured Image: New York Post]