Sergeant's death in Iraq blamed on blood clots

Sgt. John Franklin Burner III, 32, died Sept. 16 of an illness in Iskandariya, Iraq. He was deployed with the 63rd Expeditionary Signal Battalion, which is part of the 35th Signal Brigade

Sgt. John Franklin Burner III, whom the Army was treating for a respiratory infection when he died under uncertain circumstances Sept. 16 in Iraq, apparently succumbed to a blood clot, his widow said Friday.

An armed forces medical examiner told her there were "no doubts" that blood clots that formed in her husband's leg had moved to his lungs and caused his death, said Verena Burner, who lives in Grovetown with the couple's two daughters.

She and the sergeant's parents in Maryland have raised questions about why medical treatment might have been delayed for Burner as his unit moved into Iskandariya, Iraq, the week of Sept. 16.

Communicating with his wife by video only an hour before he died, John Burner said that he was having tingling in his fingers and toes and that it seemed "like nobody really cares," she said.

Confined to his quarters, he told her no one was checking on him as he lay ill and waited for the arrival, later in the week, of medical testing equipment, she said.

She continues to question why medical workers in Kuwait, where he first complained of being sick, or in Baghdad, where he was examined by a physician, didn't keep him near a hospital and perform testing that could have diagnosed his illness and saved his life.

"The answer is just why didn't they?" she said.

Her husband had "every single one of the symptoms" of thrombosis, the formation of blood clots in the legs, such as tingling, numbness, low blood pressure, seizures and collapse, she said.

Sometimes known as a silent killer, vein thrombosis can be caused by prolonged periods of inactivity, such as travelers experience on long, confined flights.

If he had been diagnosed, her husband could have been treated with blood thinners or clot-busting drugs, she said.

The unit deployed Aug. 21 for a yearlong mission, and she said she is not allowed to contact members of the 63rd Expeditionary Signal Battalion, with which he was a satellite systems team chief.

Chris Grey, a public affairs officer in the Army's criminal investigations division, said that the Army was "aggressively investigating" the circumstances surrounding Burner's death, as it does with all unattended deaths.

"We investigate all deaths as if they were homicides," Grey said in a telephone interview last week, "to make sure we have a complete picture of how things transpired."

 

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