It was Christmas Day 2006. While others were enjoying a big family dinner, Dustin “Doc” Kirby was shot in the face by a sniper in Iraq. A single bullet tore through his left cheek, taking out seven teeth and a third of his tongue, destroying 13 centimeters of his jaw and cracking his skull on its way out.
“My guys called me Doc,” says Dustin, a U.S. Navy corpsman who treated hundreds of Marines while serving two tours in the Iraq War. “‘Doc can fix anything!’ But right then? I knew I had to save my own life. I tried to bandage my wounds, my mouth and hands full of blood and flesh.”
He stumbled toward his Marines and onto a helicopter.
Put back together but living with pain
Dustin underwent 32 surgeries. “The military put me back together the best they could. But full healing? Never happened,” he says. “Pain was my constant companion. One time, it got so bad, I took my Leatherman tool and pulled out two of my teeth.”
By 2012 Dustin says he was in a dark place. “Got in my truck, gunned it past 120 miles an hour, and aimed for the biggest tree I could find. Even that didn’t work.”
He gave up hope that it could ever be better and resigned himself to the pain. “It took away my voice, my confidence, my ability to interact with people,” says Dustin.
His mother, Gail Kirby, never lost hope. She was determined to find a way that Dustin could get more of his life back, his smile back.
Finding wholeness and relief
Ten years after Dustin was shot, Gail reached out to a military charity and got Dustin medical appointments with Lawrence Brecht, DDS, and David Hirsch, DDS, MD, chief of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital. They gave Gail and Dustin the answer they were looking for: “‘We got this. We got this,’ they told me,” he says.
“Everything changed in that moment. They saw me as a whole person, capable of looking and feeling whole again. Northwell gave me back my life."
Through the use of 3D technology, a plate was made as well as guides used to cut the jaw in ideal places for realignment and a custom fit.
“A rebuilt, realigned jaw, a new set of teeth, but even more than that, ya’ll gave me me back. Once the pain was gone, I discovered that long buried me.”
When he arrived home, Dustin was eager to see his four daughters. “My kids hadn’t seen me smile, really smile, their entire lives,” says Dustin. He went right to his daughters’ elementary school. “[It was] quite a sight. The three of us bawling in this little hallway at an elementary school. Realizing things can be different now — and so much better.
“I can’t say it enough. Thank you. Ya’ll changed my life,” says Dustin, “I may be a small-town Georgia boy, but I know one thing for sure: Northwell cares. Northwell cures. And the people at Northwell never quit.”
Learn more about the community at Lenox Hill Hospital.