The benefits of scanning war corpses

The military is learning from the dead.

In the past five years, every soldier who was killed in Iraq and Afghanistan has been given a CT scan. Why? In the hopes of creating a database of war injuries, which can be used to better equip and treat future soldiers.

The effort has already paid dividends. While examining the data, it was noticed that chest tubes used to treat pneumothoraces in the field were too short. The standard tubing would have been appropriate for 50 percent of soldiers, versus longer tubing that would fit 99 percent.

Also, it was because of these “autopsy scans” where it was noticed that many of the troops died from wounds in the upper torso, which could have been prevented with the appropriate body armor. On the basis of these findings, the military rushed more armor plates to Iraq.

It’s an interesting piece, and goes on to discuss the sensitive implications of the findings to family members:

The possibility that a relative burned to death is a particular source of anguish for families, and one area in which CT can outperform an autopsy. In a body damaged by flames, CT can help pathologists figure out whether the burns occurred before or after death. The scans can also tell whether a person found in water died from drowning.

It’s truly remarkable to see how much that can be learned after death.