ECU surgeon returns from service in Afghanistan
Dr. P.J. Schenarts gets a hug from his son, Spencer, as his wife, Kim, watches. Photos by Cliff Hollis
(Oct. 14, 2010)
Balloons, flags, a stack of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and lots of hugs greeted Dr. P.J. Schenarts Thursday as he returned home following a four-month deployment to Afghanistan.
Schenarts, an associate professor of surgery at East Carolina University and lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves, spent the summer saving lives as deputy commander of the 344th Combat Support Hospital at Forward Operating Base Salerno. He arrived at the Pitt-Greenville Airport around 2 p.m.
"It feels very good," Schenarts said while surrounded by approximately 25 flag-waving friends, family and co-workers. "Great support of friends and family. Just wonderful."
As his 4-year-old son, Spencer, leapt up to hug him, Schenarts laughed and said: "He's gotten a lot bigger in a short few months. I'll have my hands full tonight."
The deployment was Schenarts' sixth: four to Afghanistan and two to Iraq. With the 344th, he cared for American soldiers, contractors, coalition forces, detainees, Afghan National Security Forces and local nationals on a case-by-case basis. Following one attack, he saved an Afghan by extracting a live grenade that had lodged in his chest during the fighting.
Earlier this year, Schenarts described working at the hospital to an Army reporter: "To work here, you need your funny bone, your back bone and your brain bone. I feel like it's not only my duty but an honor for me to be able to do this. Being able to provide critical care to soldiers is really wonderful."
During one 38-day period this summer, hospital staff responded to 39 traumas and admitted 47 patients. They took nearly 600 X-rays, performed 57 surgeries, conducted 259 CT scans and treated 56 battle-related injuries.
His wife, Kim, said neighbors along their street in Winterville have flown flags and hung banners in support of her husband.
"It's been a challenge," she said of being without her husband. "Lots of challenges, but what's been amazing is just the kindness and generosity of not only our friends and partners and their families but complete strangers. They've taken care of us and been our lifeline."
She said her main focus will be keeping her "workaholic" husband at home for a few days. He agreed, saying he has no set date to return to work and has one main thing in mind.
"I'm looking forward to lots and lots of food," he said with a smile.