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Professor emeritus injured in U.N. attack

Meghanne Downes | Thursday, August 28, 2003

The Aug. 19 suicide bombing outside the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, which killed at least 22 and wounded hundreds, seriously injured a Notre Dame professor who was in Iraq researching the costs and reconstruction after the recent war.

Gilburt Loescher, a professor emeritus of political science, and colleague Sergio Vieira de Mello, a U.N. special representative, were working in the headquarters when the late-afternoon explosion occurred. Loescher, who retired from Notre Dame three years ago, was working for the Open Democracy Project at the time of the blast.

The Washington Post reported an Army sergeant and a paramedic from the New York City Fire Department worked for approximately three hours to free Loescher and Vieira de Mello from the debris that pinned them down. About 15 minutes before Loescher was freed, Vieira de Mello died before rescuers were able to free him.

Loescher was flown to a U.S. Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany for medical attention. As a result of the blast he lost both legs above the knee, fractured several bones, severely injured his right hand and sustained several scrapes and cuts.

Loescher’s wife and daughters joined him in Germany and created a Web site to post updates of his recovery.

The Web site said Loescher’s condition varies daily but has improved considerably. He remains in the intensive care unit on a respirator, and doctors have begun to reduce his sedatives, which had stabilized his condition and relieved pain. His larger wounds remain open and some cuts on his body were so deep staples were needed to close the lacerations.

Doctors and family members said they were uncertain whether Loescher is aware of the severity of the bombing and if he knows that Vieira de Mello and colleague Arthur Helton, from the Council on Foreign Relations, died in the blast. They expect he will experience significant emotional trauma as he recovers.

“He sometimes surfaces from the fog induced by sedatives and seems terrified,” the family posted. “He tries to run, throwing his limbs about rhythmically and rolling his head.”

Since Friday, Loescher has successfully undergone a series of surgical procedures to flush and clean debris from his wounds. He continues to run a fever and his blood pressure remains erratic. The family said on the Web site they were hopeful because in recent days Loescher has followed their voices and his high blood pressure drops when a family member talks to him or places a hand on his chest, though Loescher’s erratic recovery raises concerns.

Doctors diagnosed Loescher with pneumonia Wednesday and discovered a potential blood clot in his thigh. However, they believe both can be treated.

The family said they hope to move Loescher to John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, England when he is released in a few weeks. They said doctors expect to insert a tracheal tube to help him breathe on the respirator when the swelling in his neck reduces.

Loescher, whose expertise is in human rights and refugees, joined the Notre Dame faculty in 1975 and is a fellow in the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

His family said on the Web site, “In thinking about Gil and the other new U.N. patients here we have been also thinking about the Iraqi casualties who are not so lucky and who are dying in unsatisfactory hospitals in Iraq … he would want us to keep them in our thoughts.”