By Frank Petrignani, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Retired Army Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell returned to Georgetown University Hospital yesterday, not to be treated, but to thank the doctors and nurses who helped him heal in the aftermath of September 11.
Col. Birdwell was working in his Pentagon office when a hijacked airliner slammed into the southeast section of the military complex. He suffered burns on more than 60 percent of his body. Nearly half were third-degree burns.
"What I will remember vividly for the rest of my life is the smell of jet fuel embedded into him and his clothes," said Dr. Michael Williams, then director of trauma and critical care at Georgetown University Hospital in Northwest.
"The Lord puts us in the right place at the right time ... so we could stand here and say thank you today," Col. Birdwell with his wife, Mel, at his side, told Dr. Williams, who treated the retired soldier when he arrived.
The Birdwells presented the hospital with a quilt made by Mrs. Birdwell and specially designed commemorative coins to represent a debt of gratitude.
"When Brian was in the hospital, we received a lot of quilts and it was so nice to have something aside from hospital blankets," Mrs. Birdwell said.
Col. Birdwell recovered after undergoing more than 30 operations and months of multiple skin grafts, burn treatments and therapy sessions.
Since that time, he and his wife have written a book, "Refined by Fire," and founded Face the Fire, an organization that reaches out to burn victims and their families.
"When I go see the burn victims I tell them, 'You are going through a rough time right now. But you have the gift of life and that is the most important thing in the world.' "
Col. Birdwell, who lives in Manassas with his wife and son, Matthew, 14, realizes how fortunate he is to have survived the September 11 attack on the Pentagon.
"What an incredible gift life is," Col. Birdwell said. "A lot of people from 9/11 don't have that. I get to see my son grow up."
At the time of the attack, Col. Birdwell was working for the Department of the Army at the Pentagon as the executive officer to the deputy assistant chief of staff for installation management. He earned a Bronze Star during the Persian Gulf war.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell, who was severely burned September 11, visited Georgetown University Hospital with his wife, Mel (right), to thank nurse Debi Trichel. [Photo by Liz O. Baylen/The Washington Times]