Steen Suffers Permanent Brain Damage : Victim: Beating by captors caused injury. Problem can be treated, doctors say.
As a U.S. military hospital here waited to welcome Terry A. Anderson, the last American held captive in Lebanon, physicians Wednesday delivered a troubling medical report on one of the two Americans freed earlier this week.
Air Force Col. Uwe Fohlmeister, director of hospital services at the Wiesbaden Medical Center, reported that the newly released hostage Alann Steen had sustained slight but permanent brain damage from a beating he received from his captors roughly four years ago.
He said that extensive medical examinations conducted during the former hostage’s first full day of freedom had revealed that Steen, a 52-year-old journalism professor, has “permanent neurological problems resulting from a contusion on the left side of his brain.”
As a result, Steen has suffered occasional blackouts, as well as a numbness and a lack of coordination of his right foot and hand. “That will be permanent,” Fohlmeister said.
Steen was also treated for a sinus infection and high blood pressure, a condition he reportedly had before his capture.
Fohlmeister stressed that Steen’s neurological problems, known medically as partial complex seizures, can be easily treated and held in check. The seizures “should be completely controlled and pose no further problem to him for the rest of his life,” Fohlmeister said, adding, “I’d like to emphasize that Mr. Steen is feeling well, eating well and after several days of rest, expects to resume a full, normal life.”
On Tuesday, physicians found that Joseph J. Cicippio, released earlier this week by his Shiite Muslim kidnapers after more than 1,900 days of captivity, suffered permanent frost-bite damage after being chained to a balcony railing and exposed to winter cold.
Fohlmeister said that Steen’s injuries came from a beating administered by his captors.
“He mentioned he was exercising and they felt he was not acting appropriately,” the physician said. “He was kicked . . . struck his head on the wall and basically received a large bruise on his brain from that.”
Steen told doctors that, during the first week after the beating, he felt very weak and suffered three general seizures of uncontrolled, jerking body movements. For almost six months, he had only limited use and feeling of his right side, Fohlmeister told reporters.
Steen reportedly was given medication by his captors for months after the beating. But it was halted and he apparently received no further treatment during the final four years of his imprisonment.
Some news agency dispatches from the region shortly after his capture referred to the beating but claimed it had come after an attempted escape.
Despite his ordeal, Fohlmeister described Steen’s mental and psychological condition as “very good. He’s come to grips with this very, very well.”
He said an initial hesitancy and uncertainty on Steen’s part--which included asking permission to ask questions, behavior apparently common among newly freed hostages--had quickly faded. “He’s changed dramatically in the last 12 hours,” Fohlmeister told reporters. “He’s more outgoing, more vocal, more open. He starts conversations and is a very, very pleasant man.”
Steen’s medical report came on a day that both he and Cicippio were reunited with family members who had arrived in Germany on overnight, transatlantic flights.
Cicippio, beaming and waving, appeared briefly on a hospital balcony with members of his family, including his brother, Thomas, whose front yard display in Norristown, Pa., counting the days in captivity of all the American hostages in Lebanon drew national attention. Two of Cicippio’s sons, and a sister-in-law, also made the trip. His Lebanese born wife, Ilham, who had joined him in Damascus shortly after his release, was also at his side.
Answering questions shouted by reporters from the lawn below, the 61-year-old university administrator said he “just broke up” when he saw his family again. Asked how they looked to him, he quipped, “Bigger!”
He said that only during the first phase of his captivity did he become aware of his brother’s efforts to win his release.
Unlike many of those Americans imprisoned in Lebanon, Cicippio was deprived almost completely of information about the world outside. “I had no newspapers, no magazines,” he said. “I had a total news blackout.”
He said he spent much of his time reading about 150 books, some of them 10 to 15 times. “Books of all kinds--history, psychology, physics, medicine, fiction, nonfiction,” he said.
He said he had no idea why he had been chained on a balcony by his captors, exposed to the winter cold. “I’d like to know, too,” he said. “We were just put there.”
Cicippio was held with fellow American Edward Tracy for most of his captivity. Tracy was freed last August.
Military officials said Cicippio planned to leave for the United States today. The suite Cicippio occupied at the medical center will be given over to Anderson.