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King George woman who lost her leg and her vision after service in Bosnia has shared her story across the nation.
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By CATHY DYSON
Friends say her battle scars made Leslie Smith who she is today, but people who don't know the retired Army captain could scarcely guess at the horrible wounds she's suffered.
Instead, they see an attractive brunette who glides to center stage, smiling all the while and wearing her signature high heels.
When the King George County resident shares her story, as she did at the 2008 Republican National Convention or on the set of the "Days of Our Lives" soap opera this year, audience members get a glimpse of the medical hell Smith has endured since she was in Bosnia 10 years ago.
And they are inspired.
Smith hasn't just battled on, after losing a leg and then vision in both eyes, she's done it with a smile on her face.
"I witnessed Leslie push on through so much, when so many others would have just given up," said Mary Bryant of Achilles International, a group that brings sporting events to disabled people, including wounded warriors. "She does it with such charm and beauty and is an inspiration to all of us."
'I SURVIVED THIS'
Smith, now 43, was a public relations officer in Bosnia in 2002. She loved the people, who told her time and again how grateful they were for the American assistance. The countryside reminded her of Pennsylvania, where she lived as a child.
She was approved for a second tour of duty.
When she first felt a pain in her leg, she thought it was a pulled muscle. Tests showed she had a blood clot, and she was told to head stateside for treatment.
She argued with her commander, asking if she could go home with her division.
She didn't want to be perceived "as the weak female soldier who couldn't hang tough."
Smith was sent to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where doctors thought a rare blood disorder caused the clot.
A few weeks later, she started hemorrhaging in both legs, and her condition went downhill fast. She said her body was clotting itself to death.
She was put on a 24-hour death watch. Her parents were asked if they wanted to bury her at Arlington National Cemetery.
Doctors tried a last-ditch drug, which saved her life, but the damage had been done.