From Burlingame to Baghdad

by John Horgan

Gil Loescher is home. He has returned to his house in Oxford, England. That, in itself, is more than a minor miracle. Loescher, 58, nearly died in the terror bombing of a United Nations headquarters building in Baghdad in August.

Of the two dozen people on the third floor, which collapsed in the powerful blast, all perished but one. Included in that number was Brazilian diplomat and U.N. special envoy Vieira de Mello.p. Loescher, who grew up in Burlingame, somehow managed to survive. Both of his legs had to be amputated above the knee. He suffered serious damage to his right hand. And he incurred head and facial wounds as well.p. He was rescued by U.S. military personnel and airlifted to a hospital in Germany, where he was stabilized so that he could be transported back to England, where he lives. Weeks of surgeries and an Internet Web log created by Loescher’s wife, Ann, and daughters Maggie and Claire, kept family, friends and colleagues updated on Gil’s progress almost on a daily basis. Through Tuesday of this week, there had been 55,758 visits to that Web site.p. Gil’s recovery, though far from complete, has been surprisingly rapid. Speaking by telephone from his home, he stated that his rehabilitation is proceeding well. He is getting around in a wheelchair.p. He was released from the Oxford hospital Nov. 1, well ahead of schedule. “Within two days of leaving the hospital,” he said, “I tried on new, short, artificial legs (which are used to assist amputees with their balance early on) and, using parallel bars, was able to take a few steps. I was elated. But I have a long way to go.”p. He explained that he remembers when the bomb went off, then emerging from unconsciousness in the rubble of the building and signaling for help. He said he prefers not to look back. “I’m not Superman,” he noted. “But, so far, I haven’t asked for psychological help. I haven’t needed it. I have had some down moments. But I don’t dwell on the past.”p. To that end, in fact, he has begun to write a book. “I’ve already written the first chapter,” he said. That’s important, because his right hand will require more therapy before it’s fully functional again. He has an assistant helping him with his new project.p. Loescher, an expert on refugee and humanitarian affairs, has written and lectured extensively on those subjects for many years. He was in Baghdad with the U.N. to consult on such issues. “I plan to return to a full and active life,” he said. “That’s even more important to me now.”p. Loescher added that one of the most heartening aspects of his harrowing experience has been the outpouring of concern and affection directed toward him. A former longtime instructor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana , he said former students have been in touch. So have many of his ex-classmates.p. He graduated from Burlingame Intermediate School in 1959 and Serra High School in San Mateo four years later. He then matriculated to St. Mary’s College in Moraga.p. A strapping ex-basketball player, he said a number of his former teammates have contacted him, too. “It’s really been wonderful,” he offered. “I’d lost contact with so many of them over the years.”p. He said, as a teacher, he has been especially touched by the outpouring of affection from his pupils, much of it via e-mail. “They are all over the world now,” he noted. “I’ve been overwhelmed by the reaction this got. I’ve been really moved by it.”p. At some point in the future, he said, he intends to travel back to the Bay Area to re-connect with folks out here. But that trip won’t occur for a while. He has a lot of work ahead of him in Oxford.p. p. You can contact John Horgan by telephone at 348-4334, by fax at 348-4446 and by regular snail-mail at P.O. Box 5400, San Mateo 94402.

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