In April 2003, the Marines of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines entered Baghdad, headed for the Iraqi Intelligence Ministry. Sergeant Jesus Vindaña, a radio operator, was relaying orders from his command when a sniper's bullet tore through his helmet from behind.
Except he wasn't dead — Vindaña's heart was beating, but it was so weak it didn't register a pulse.
Nearby, CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, was working as a reporter for the cable news network.
Gupta was embedded with "Devil Docs," a team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and others who operate out of medical tents called "Forward Resuscitative Surgical Suites" in some of the most dangerous combat zones in the world. It was in this FRSS that Gupta found Vindaña – and his pulse.
Luckily for the wounded Marine, Dr. Gupta is a member of the staff and faculty of the Department of Neurosurgery at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. He is the associate chief of Neurosurgery there, and routinely works in its operating rooms.
As the FRSS team worked frantically to save the Marine (who had twice been declared dead already), they asked Gupta for his Neurosurgery expertise, he later recalled in an article on CNN. Turns out, the military didn't send many brain surgeons to the front-line FRSS units.
They also didn't have the medical equipment necessary to open skulls during surgery. Not a problem for the resourceful doctor. Gupta borrowed a set of tools from the Marines there and used a Black and Decker power drill to open Vindaña's head.
Vindaña shows Dr. Gupta the helmet he wore the day he was shot. (CNN/YouTube)
Within an hour, Gupta removed the bullet in Vindaña's brain and the Marine was in the recovery room.
"In all the years I have worked in hospitals, I have never seen resources mobilized so quickly and health care workers move with such purpose," Dr. Gupta wrote just three years later. "And, remember, it was a tent in the middle of the desert by the dark of night in the most dangerous place on Earth."
Vindaña now advocates for health care reform and maintains contact with Dr. Gupta. (CNN/YouTube)
Years after the surgery, Gupta met with Vindaña again in the Marine's native Los Angeles. The only noticeable remnants of his bullet to the brain was a "slight limp and weakness in his left hand."