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ND prof heals from U.N. bombing

Meghanne Downes | Wednesday, September 24, 2003

The Notre Dame professor emeritus injured in the Aug. 19 suicide bombing of the Baghdad U. N. headquarters made a considerable step in his long road to recovery last week, speaking audibly for the first time since the incident, his family reported.

Gilbert Loescher’s relatives posted the information on a Web site tracking his recovery. They said his tracheostomy tube was replaced Thursday with a smaller, more flexible tube, allowing him to speak more clearly.

Family members posted that, prior to Thursday’s procedure, the political science professor emeritus would attempt to talk and would become anxious and frustrated when he could not be understood. Doctors informed the family that it was common for patients with tracheostomies to believe that others can hear them because they can hear their own voice even though their attempts to speak are inaudible.

Loescher, who is now able to talk for brief periods, recounted memories from the blast.

Relatives posted that he remembered seeing his right hand getting sliced during the explosion, the floor falling and the ceiling caving in.

“Using hoarse whispers and facial expressions he told her how in an instant everything changed,” the family posted.

Loescher then asked about the fate of colleagues Sergio Vieira de Mello, a U.N. special representative, and Arthur Shelton, who both died in the blast. Loescher was working for the Open Democracy Project and was trapped with de Mello following the blast.

The family posted that they learned Loescher was the only person to survive the blast in the section of the building from which he was rescued; he vaguely remembers the rescue.

Loescher lost both of his legs and severely damaged his right hand in the blast. He underwent a series of surgeries, which included the removal of debris and skin grafts. Though he has been weaned from many heavy sedatives, he remains on several painkillers, including morphine.

During an earlier procedure, doctors inserted a tracheostomy tube to aid Loescher with his breathing. Though Loescher remains on a respirator, his ability to breathe without aid is steadily increasing. Doctors informed the family that they are positive about Loescher’s condition but expect his recovery to be extensive.

Loescher, a human rights and refugee expert, joined the Notre Dame faculty in 1975 and is a fellow with the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.