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Patient Story 17 January 2020

Word Is Bond: Carl Meloche

Written by Breann Lujan-Halcon

Carl Meloche is no stranger to taking a leap. The retired paratrooper and Green Beret, served in the Army for 21 years and in that time, tallied over 1,000 parachute jumps. The Vietnam veteran knows all about risks and believes in keeping your word and building trust.

When it came to his health, Meloche knew he trusted in the care he received at Ivinson and in the staff he met along the way.

Carl has called Laramie home since 2005. In that time he has become well acquainted with Ivinson Memorial Hospital and has found comfort in the care he receives from those that have come to know him best. 

As a veteran, Carl frequently makes the 60-mile trip to the Cheyenne VA for care. There have been occasions that the hour drive is not feasible, which brought Carl to Ivinson. 

I’ve been here three times before for kidney stones,” Carl said. Can’t make it over there so I come here.”

It was a similar pain that brought him into general surgeon Pete Graham’s office. I had a lot of pain prior. When I came here he guaranteed me he would take care of me.” Carl had been in for a consult at the VA, where they had diagnosed him with a left inguinal hernia and scheduled him for an open repair. For Carl, this meant an invasive surgery and a lengthy recovery time. 

As a former med tech at a VA hospital, he had witnessed two separate open hernia repairs. He recalled the Thompson retractors, a tool used to expose the surgical area in an open surgery. 

I watched them do the cut, and move this and pull that out and they take that and then sew everything back together. I watched them do that, and Dr. Graham is telling me everything is going to be okay? Well I’m not a young man and I’m thinking, he’s going to be cutting into my groin! So then he said, he’s going to do it with a robot.”

Carl had a robotic left inguinal hernia repair with mesh that Dr. Graham performed with the da Vinci xi Surgical Robot. Robotic assisted surgery allows the surgeon to conduct minimally invasive surgery with advanced precision. Dr. Graham was able to repair Carl’s hernia with an 8 mm sized vertical incision, a cut that is half the size of a dime. 

A frequent flyer to Ivinson’s OR, Carl made friends with Anesthesiologist Dr. Calvin Bell and credits their comradery for putting him at ease each time he went in for a procedure. Bell’s a nice guy, he knows my background. So when I came in to have the surgery with Dr. Graham, I went up there all ready to go and he came up there with his papers and said, I’m going to knock out a green beret!” Carl chuckled, he appreciates being able to joke around in tense times, it just works”. Dr. Bell was with him from pre-op and throughout his surgery. 

The nurse that prepped me went into the OR with me and she was there the whole time. When I woke up she was holding my hand. You can’t beat that. That’s something that you aren’t used to — they don’t do that at the VA.”

Carl recalls a time he felt not so at ease, waking up in a field hospital, and not knowing where he was. 

I know I’m going to be in good shape here. Dr. Graham is a really nice guy. His help, all the help that he had, all the nurses, all the staff, I don’t care who they were, treated me like gold. I have never had one person in this facility that I’ve disagreed with. They’re upfront, they treat you like a human being, and they respect us,” Carl said pointing to his Special Forces beret flash. It’s tough because, we’re not used to being treated that way. It’s a different situation.”

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A History of Service

Join the National Guard, they said. You won’t get drafted in the Guard, they said. 

Wrong!” Carl was drafted in 1956 and found himself at basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. 

Carl was destined to be a truck driver in the military, but his basic training instructor, an airborne veteran out of Korea, changed that fate. He talked Carl into going airborne, jumping out of aircrafts for an extra $55 a month. To Carl, that was a sweet deal. 

Ten days later Carl was headed for jump school. It was there that he joined the 82nd airborne division and was accepted to the Special Forces.

I went to Germany with the tenth Special Forces. They had asked for volunteers and had 6,000 guys in 48 hours. They had 4,000 guys volunteer for those 6 positions and I got selected. So I went to Vietnam in March of 63, went back in 65, went back in 68 and went back in 72.”

Having done multiple tours as an engineer in a Special Forces team, Carl had more experience and more grit than any of the guys doing his same job in his last tour. It was for that reason he was assigned to the Special Forces 5th group interrogation team. 

In 72, I had over 68 hours in the air, flying handheld photos. I received an aircraft award, it was issued to me in the Army. I was never in the Air Force, but I felt like I was in the Air Force for a while.” 

Carl returned stateside in 1973, and he remained with the Special Forces into his retirement in June of 1978

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On The Mend

No longer plagued by back pain, Carl quickly recovered from surgery. He is back to taking trips to the mountains with his best girl, a Siberian Husky named Lady, and plans to get back on his motorbike come better weather. 

There is not much that can take this Green Beret down, but when a hernia did, Carl knew he was in good hands with Dr. Graham.

When I met Dr. Graham, I thought, I’m okay’. It was like meeting someone you have known for a while, he’s always got a smile on his face. I think he knew that I trusted him and that I was comfortable with what he told me he had to do. It’s been a good experience coming here. I trusted him the day I met him. The day he came in there to do my surgery, I felt like he was part of the guys — I wasn’t worried about a thing.”

Settled into retirement, Carl lives life a little slower now. He goes to weekly meetings at the VA, and is part of a motorcycle club. If he’s not fly fishing a stream in the Snowies, he’s probably cruising in his Mini Cooper that is suitably green.

The Snowy Range is my prime place. I caught my first trout in Wyoming, at Sugarloaf. I’m a fly fisherman; I went in there and caught my first trout- and I thought, this is a great place.’”

It is the place Carl intends to remain. The world traveler has seen much of the world, but no place felt like home until he came here. After a lifetime of taking leaps, Carl Meloche may have made his final landing in Wyoming but that is yet to be determined. As the Special Forces veteran knows, once one, always one.