Stephenville native Conner Elms, son of Cindra and Chick Elms and grandson of G.K. and Nita Lewallen, has started down the road to recovery. Since returning to the United States from Afghanistan, Elms has undergone six surgeries and is currently in outpatient care at Brooke Army Medical in San Antonio, Cindra said Friday.
Elms, 25, was injured in the early morning hours of July 20 while on a three-day mission in Afghanistan. He sustained an injury to his upper right arm and was shot in his left thumb when he was fired on at close range with an AK-47.
The radial nerve and brachial artery in his right arm were severed, but Cindra said doctors were able to reattach the nerve by shortening Elms' shattered humerus - the bone that runs from the shoulder to the elbow. Doctors then inserted a steel plate with 11 screws in his upper arm to keep it stabilized.
Once doctors were able to remove the final six inches of staples from his arm last week, Elms was "very excited" to begin occupational therapy, according to Cindra.
After the radial nerve regenerates, he will regain use of his right wrist, hand and fingers.
"Doctors have explained when a nerve is severed, it sustains damage immediately but usually regenerates at a rate of 1 millimeter per day, which Conner says is way too slow for him, so he believes he will heal quicker than expected," Cindra said. "We have learned the exact amount of time it takes the nerve to regenerate - from the upper arm to the fingers - depends on many factors, but our family is extremely confident in Conner's determination. We know he will work very hard to do everything possible for a complete and quick recovery."
While Elms is "very focused" on his recovery, he is aware the injuries he sustained are a blessing when compared to what could have happened.
"Conner is fully aware it is an absolute miracle that he's alive - as if being shot from 10 yards away with an AK-47 isn't enough proof," Cindra said.
The doctors first thought there was a spleen injury due to taking rounds in his chest protector, however, no internal injuries were found, Elms said.
"I was told that I'm an extremely lucky guy, but really, I know I was extremely blessed and saved by the grace of God," he added.
Conner said the situation should have never happened, but when he considers how things could have turned out, he is grateful.
"I am very thankful for the Lord's divine protection of bringing me through," Elms said.
Before returning to San Antonio where he was reunited with his wife, Caitlin, Elms' sacrifice was almost immediately recognized by military officials. He was presented with a Purple Heart by an Army general in an impromptu ceremony at a hospital in Afghanistan.
The July 20 incident occurred as the 10th Mountain Division had begun preparations to return to Ft. Polk, La. following a one-year tour of duty.
Meanwhile, friends and family are wishing Elms Godspeed in his recovery.
"His ongoing therapy will be a process, but we will continue to pray for complete healing and be very thankful for what God has done so far," Cindra said. "Conner and Caitlin would like to thank everybody for their visits, kindness, thoughts and most of all prayers."