SHELBY – Nick Vogt lost both legs after an IED exploded while leading his platoon in Afghanistan in 2011.
Life without legs has been tough enough, but the Shelby resident faces a problem that most people don’t even realize.
Nick, 33, had less than a millimeter of soft tissue on his pelvis, which makes sitting extremely painful.
“There was always pain as soon as I sat down,” he said. “It would gradually get worse.”
Wife Lauren added, “It was literally just skin and bones.”
If Nick and Lauren, 31, were going out to eat at a restaurant, they had to plan how long they could stay there. They used to have two seats on an airplane to allow Nick to lie down.
The problem affected Nick’s quality of daily life.
“You don’t realize how many times you sit down,” he said.
Life-changing surgery in early 2021
In February, however, Nick returned to the Walter Reed National Military Center, where he underwent life-changing surgery.
Dr Jason Souza performed the 12-hour procedure in February. He took a flap of skin from Nick’s back, as well as blood vessels in his abdomen, and connected them to give Nick more padding.
“Nick had weight on fabrics that were never meant to support weight,” Souza said. “He got into a routine where he was discharging once an hour. It is not compatible with a high quality of life.”
Souza has since started working at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, which has started a military medicine program.
Souza performed a follow-up on Nick in October.
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Nick Vogt suffered catastrophic injuries during the war
Nick’s story caught the attention of people everywhere. He was fortunate enough to survive his injuries, which were catastrophic.
A graduate of Crestline, Nick suffered a brain injury and was diagnosed with a seizure disorder. He didn’t worry about the tissue problem until much later.
“It wasn’t such a nuisance at first,” Nick said. “There were much more serious things that I was recovering from.
“I didn’t have a career. I was just a patient. As I transitioned to a normal life, it came back more often.”
At Walter Reed, Nick met Lauren, who was a nurse there. They fell in love. She was with him throughout the ordeal.
Obviously, their life has been difficult.
“There were parts where we were kind of stationary,” Nick said. “These are the times when you are frustrated. At those times you must have hope and trust in God.”
Because his body couldn’t support its weight, Nick couldn’t stay in his wheelchair for very long. Worse yet, he couldn’t interact with his children the way he wanted.
“I had to lay down on the couch and just give them directions,” Nick said.
Lauren added, “We were constantly looking for a permanent solution for this.”
She said they ran into Dr Souza by chance after contacting one of Nick’s former nurses in Walter Reed. She connected the couple with Souza’s office.
“People feel like once you leave the hospital, the story ends,” Souza said.
Ohio State seeks to treat more veterans like Nick
Nick and the staff at OSU Wexner Medical Center hope his story will reach other veterans.
According to Dr. Amy Moore, Ohio has the fourth largest veteran population.
“We see so many with traumatic injuries,” Moore said.
Moore started at OSU in November 2019. She is the Director of the Department of Plastic Surgery.
“We’ve basically put in place the infrastructure to build a larger military medicine program,” Moore said, adding that she hopes to start training surgeons next summer.
She noted that 70% of weakened soldiers suffer from pain.
“We treat people’s pain through specialized surgical procedures,” Moore said. “Raising awareness among military veterans is the top priority.”
Moore added that the OSU coordinates with military medical personnel and does not seek to replace them.
Souza, who spent six years with Walter Reed, joined the staff on September 1. He said there is a loss of institutional interest when there is no war and resources are reallocated.
Souza came to Columbus, in part because he wants to continue performing surgeries like the one he performed on Nick.
“You feel like you are part of a mission,” he said. “We are excited about what we can do here.”
The surgery improved Vogt’s quality of life
Souza and the OSU medical team are focusing on seriously injured service members across the country. They receive specialized, life-changing care from a team of advanced reconstructive surgeons, military specialists and rehabilitation experts.
The team deals with complicated combat injuries.
Souza had a second surgery last month to treat a long scar on Nick’s chest, which occurred when doctors cut open his chest wall and massaged his heart to keep it alive.
Remarkably, that was 10 years ago. Nick can’t believe it’s been so long.
Lauren has only known Nick since he was injured. She says she doesn’t feel the sense of loss that other family members feel.
“It’s easier for me than some of them,” Lauren said. “It’s my normal.”
The family’s sense of normalcy almost returned with Nick’s successful procedures.
“It’s definitely improved (my quality of life),” Nick said. “At the very least, it made a lot less of a risk to the skin.
“If the skin breakage occurs, I have to lie down constantly.”
Instead, Nick can now enjoy a leisurely meal at a restaurant or spend more time with his kids.
Life becomes more normal for the Vogt family
Nick retired from the military in 2015. Six months ago he started working as a software programmer at Accent Technology, a Florida company. Nick works remotely, adding work gives him more sense of purpose.
Meanwhile, Lauren is a stay-at-home mom to Nathan, 4, and Evelyn, 2.
The siblings would tent behind the living room sofa during the interview with their parents. Evelyn continued to hug her plush Snoopy, which then played the “Peanuts” theme.
Lauren does not rule out a return to nursing.
“I really like being at home right now,” she said. “I can always use my nursing skills between Nick and the kids. I’m not too rusty.”
In 2018, Nick and Lauren received a home through the Gary Sinise Foundation. They live in the settlement area outside of Shelby, next to Nick’s parents. Their house has a fenced yard for the kids and a large cornfield behind the yard.
Life is Beautiful.
“It has been extremely heartwarming for the community to see Nick come close to a normal life,” Lauren said.
Nick wants people to learn from his experience.
“This gradual recovery has become a good example of hope,” he said.