When retired Capt. Ryan Kules first met Col. John Groves in 2005, there wasn’t any time for small talk.
“I’m sorry I didn’t introduce myself properly the first time we met,” Kules said to Groves in 2005.
“Well, you were dead when we met, so….,” Groves said, now Madigan Army Medical Center’s chief nursing officer.
Groves and Kules met a second time after a chance reunion at Fort Riley, Kan., in 2007. The two had another reunion Feb. 3 when Kules was a guest speaker at the 116th Army Nurse Corps Anniversary celebration at Madigan.
The two first met Nov. 29, 2005, in Taji, Iraq, when Kules was rushed to the combat support hospital after his patrol team was hit by several improvised explosive devices. Two Soldiers who were with Kules were killed in action.
Kules was thrown from his vehicle. Recovery teams were able to rescue him on to a helicopter where they immediately began performing CPR.
“He came in — no right arm, no left leg,” Groves said. “Basically every bone in his body was broken, and the nurses were struggling to get a central line into his right femoral artery. He was pretty much dead when he got to us.”
Up until 2007, Groves provided care for more than 6,000 patients, only a handful of which he can remember details.
Kules happened to be one of those patients he remembers.
After overhearing a conversation about Kules’s case, Groves quickly asked about him and the two were able to reconnect.
Fast forward to 2017, and Kules, now a husband and father of three, speaks nothing but praise about the doctors, nurses and flight medics who saved his life that day, including Groves.
On Feb. 3, Kules was the guest speaker at Madigan for the Army Nurse Corps Anniversary celebration. As the double-amputee shared his recovery process at both Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, in Germany, and Walter Reed Medical Center, in Maryland, he made it very clear that his gratitude for nurses and flight medics is never ending.
“They didn’t give up on me,” Kules said. “Anything warfighters can do doesn’t come without the support from people like you. Thank you for all you’re doing.”
During his 18-month recovery at Walter Reed, Kules learned to walk, write and accomplish other daily living activities — his “new normal.”
“As I was working on what my next steps would be, some guy came in my room and asked me if I wanted to go skiing.” Kules said, recalling looking down at his missing leg, and to the side at his missing arm, but he made a decision at that moment to move on.
He went on the ski trip, learning how to maneuver custom skis for amputees. That trip also marked the beginning of Kules’s journey with the nonprofit organization Wounded Warrior Project, where he now serves as the Combat Stress Recovery Program director.
“My nursing team from all over Army Medicine, and the great people at Wounded Warrior Project, gave me a new lease on life,” Kules said. “Since Taji in 2005, I’ve gone fishing, skiing and testified in front of Congress on behalf of warfighters. I even went back to Iraq in 2010, and this time, I was able to walk out of there.”
Groves sees Kules’ story as a victory for the Army Nurse Corps, showing the confidence Soldiers have in nurses.
“Nurses are the most respected profession there is,” Groves said during the ceremony. “You mix that with the one percent of the population serving in the military and you have us — the Army Nurse Corps.”
Although Kules’ and Groves’ friendship has blossomed over the last 10 years, Groves likes to refer to their encounters as “when he was dead” and “when he was alive again.”
“Sometimes you have to recognize miracles every once in a while,” Groves said. “Meeting back up with Captain Kules, when he was alive of course, is one of those miracles.”