Commencement 2013: URI senior wounded in Iraq war off to dental school

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Staci Smith grateful to Air Force oral surgeon who repaired her shattered jaw

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 4, 2013 – As a Marine in Iraq, she’d come under fire, recoiled at the charred remains of blown-up trucks and watched in horror as artillery rounds secretly packed in a car trunk were detonated. But nothing was worse than the crash that nearly took her life.

It was a blue-sky morning, Aug. 24, 2006. Cpl. Staci Renee Smith, in the war-torn country only six months, was delivering ammunition to troops at a faraway combat post when her vehicle flipped over. She hit the ground, headfirst.

“My first thought was ‘I’m going to die,’ ” says Smith. “Then I passed out.”

When she woke up, an oral surgeon from the U.S. military was hovering over her offering comforting words: “Your jaw is shattered. I can fix it.” After multiple surgeries, he did just that, inserting two metal plates – one in her chin, the other in her right jaw – and securing them with five screws.

“He saved my face,” says Smith, 27, who lives in Woonsocket. “I could have scars all over, but I don’t. He inserted the plates through the inside of my mouth. You can’t even tell.”