Celebrating Veterans Day: Interview with Captain Bill “Hawk” Albracht

Captain Bill Hawk Albracht

Battle-tested in the Theaters of War and the OR

framed medals square dpi orig ORA
Captain Albracht is one of the most decorated veterans in the Vietnam War.

Two Quad City men. Two life missions. One decorated Army captain serves to protect his country. The second orthopedic surgeon serves to heal his patients. Together as native sons, their mutual respect and humility is an inspiration and a source of deep pride for all of us in the Quad City community.

Semi-retired US Army Captain Bill “Hawk” Albracht, 73, hails from Rock Island and is one of the most highly decorated veterans of the Vietnam War. An Alleman High School alum who played football for the Pioneers, he began his storied Army career as the youngest Army Captain in Vietnam at age 21. “I’ve been shot three times, jumped out of my share of airplanes, and marched with a full rucksack more times than I can count.”

His story, service, and sacrifice is best told through his prestigious three silver stars, five bronze silver stars, and three purple hearts, to name just a few accolades as an officer, Green Beret, and later, in his 25 year career in the Secret Service. From Vietnam to the Cold War, and through decades of global conflict in both the 20th and 21st Centuries, he has carried the burdens of promoting peace — burdens that have understandably become physically heavier with time.  “The life I’ve lead has just taken a toll,” he reflects.

From the theater of war and geopolitics, significant pain in the Captain’s knees, biceps, and shoulder began to worsen over time, and lead him to a second theater, here in the Quad Cities, where he humbly submitted to treatment after years of pain. His own reconnaissance for highly respected, proven, and specialized orthopedic care brought him to ORA Orthopedics for, at that time, a much-needed total knee replacement “I had both knees replaced at ORA in 2011, and the care and expertise of Dr. Charles Cassell and Dr. Joseph Martin was second to none.”

Suleman Hussain M D
Dr. Suleman Hussain, ORA Orthopedics

A “true honor” to care for Hawk

Fast forward 10 years and now the excruciating pain in the Captain’s shoulder was keeping him up at night. Another round of research led him right back to ORA and this time, to Dr. Suleman Hussain, who specializes in sports medicine, including shoulder replacement and reconstruction.

“His name kept coming up, and I knew I was in the right hands so I chose ORA again. I wanted to be close to home and wanted the best available for my situation, and ORA delivered again.”

Like the Captain, Dr. Hussain is a Quad City native, having grown up as a Moline Maroon, then attended Augustana College. After medical school, he became fellowship-trained in sports medicine at UCLA.

Fellowship training represents the highest level of training a physician can achieve in a specialty and reflects the dedication and expertise in a chosen field of practice.  Having achieved this orthopedic distinction of excellence, he was ready to return to the Quad Cities and share his knowledge to heal ORA’s patients. He also knows a warrior when he meets one.

“When I met Captain Albracht, he was suffering from extensive rotator cuff arthritis. As a decorated Vietnam veteran who has endured so much, he’s not the kind of guy who complains of pain. However, in addition to his bone-on-bone arthritis, his rotator cuff was also torn. So, for him to ask calmly and pragmatically that we ease that pain, it was truly humbling and an honor for me and my team.

Best course of action: Reverse shoulder replacement

“After undergoing an extensive course of physical therapy and injections, his pain became so severe, I recommended reverse shoulder replacement surgery. He’s the kind of person who knows what he has to do, and he just gets it done.”

Within several months, Dr. Hussain and his team performed a reverse shoulder replacement. Dr. Hussain explains that a reverse total shoulder replacement works better for people with rotator cuff tears because it relies on different muscles to move the arm compared to a traditional shoulder replacement procedure. “Reverse replacement surgical outcomes help restore a shoulder’s natural movement, and we were very pleased with the outcome of the Captain’s surgery.”

“I can’t say enough about Dr. Hussain,” adds the Captain. “He was not only professional, but has a great bedside manner. He’s friendly and easy to talk to. He was also able to reattach a torn bicep and I continue to make great progress in PT.

“I only spent one night in the hospital and eight months later I’m back to 85-95-percent usage. My physical therapy has been excellent. My ORA PT, Chris Murphy, is so knowledgeable and he pushes me right where I need to be. These injuries dogged me and slowed me down and now I feel rejuvenated. Absolutely great.”

Mission Accomplished. 

Dr Hussain with book
Dr. Hussain with a signed copy of Captain Albracht’s book.

For both men, there’s a genuine shared regard and satisfaction for the successfully completed mission to get Captain Albracht back on his feet. “It meant a lot to us to ease his pain and make it better for him. It felt very good and was deeply moving. Even some of my team members in the OR had read his book, Abandoned in Hell: The Fight for Vietnam’s Fire Base Kate.”

After surgery, the Captain continues to push himself, working part-time for the Secret Service, traveling nationally to speaking engagements and inspiring his audiences. “We all must do what life demands of you. I am extremely active in semi-retirement. My wife, Mary, says I need a real hobby, but serving my country and sharing lessons learned continues to bring the greatest satisfaction, and besides, I’m no good at golf.”

“Captain Albracht is battle-tested and he’s truly salt of earth,” adds Dr. Hussain. “Even after his long career, he doesn’t live on his past laurels. Our entire care team has been inspired by his strength and respect.”

Both men are pleased with his phenomenal post-surgical progress.  Dr. Hussain’s says that his patient should be able to reach his potential and look forward to many more productive years. In gratitude, the Captain presented an Army coin to Dr. Hussain and it deeply moved him.

“We all just felt this deep respect for a man who sacrificed so much, and who is still giving so much even as he lives with the lingering consequences of his war-time experiences.  We take care a lot of active duty and military veterans, but Captain Albracht reminds us how important  and how much everyone in the military, as well as their families, sacrifice on our behalf.”