Andrew Cristancho, Sierra Sun Staff Writer

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December 7, 2007
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Guidance from his sons


There's a determination in Bill Krissoff's voice. It is conveyed with a calm cadence that cracks once with emotion as he speaks of his son, a Marine lieutenant whose injuries from an Iraqi roadside bomb couldn't be repaired in time.

Now Krissoff's Truckee office is shuttered. His wife has come to terms with his nearing departure. All that is left for Krissoff, a 61-year-old orthopedic surgeon, is to head to Iraq where young Marines, broken from battle, will be tended by his experienced hands.

Marine 1st Lt. Nathan Krissoff's death, only a year past, galvanized his father's determination to go to war as a healer.

At a time when most successful doctors his age are settling into retirement, the fit surgeon is making one of the most monumental decisions of his life and heading to war.

In his sixth decade, Krissoff, who could pass for 41, squares his chin and with large eyes looking at a point in the distance, proudly speaks of his son.

Fathers usually inspire sons into action, to achieve life goals. But in this family that relationship was turned upside down when Dr. Krissoff received news of his older son's death.

Nathan Krissoff died on Dec. 9, 2006, in Al Anbar province. He was 25.

Now the fallen Marine's father is committed to a mission, one that carries even more than the memory of Nathan. Krissoff's youngest son, Austin, is also an officer in the Corps.

"Both my sons were hugely affected by the events of 9/11, and Nate was proud to serve in the Marines, as Austin is," Krissoff says. "I share their views."

So he is closing his Truckee practice, leaving his Reno home, relocating to San Diego and taking on a brand new persona, that of Navy Lt. Commander .

Though 19 years over the Navy's official age limit, Dr. Krissoff will serve as a Navy surgeon for three years.

"My interest in Navy medicine," Krissoff says, "was because they take care of Marines."

Dr. Anthony Zissimos, a colleague and friend of Krissoff, says Nate's death changed the Krissoff family forever.

"Bill would probably say that his sons showed him the light," Zissimos says. "He is really going to another form of service."

And why not be of service to the nation, Krissoff asks.

"We have a generation that thinks it is someone else's responsibility. I encourage more older people to serve," Krissoff says from his neat wooden desk on one of the last days he will spend in the Truckee practice he built over 28 years.

"He is an excellent surgeon," says colleague Dr. John Foley. "Bill was doing sports medicine before sports medicine became nouveau. Before there was an Academy of Sports Medicine."

Physically fit

The sexagenarian says he's not worried about the physical duties of being a Navy doctor. He swims a mile a day, and while not kayaking or skiing, he works out in the gym. Krissoff is not slowing down at an age when many of his peers may be thinking about retiring.

"It is more common than you would think," says Krissoff's Navy recruitment officer, Lt. Commander Ken Hopkins. "They reach the top of their professional career and they are looking for a new challenge. And they have a desire to serve."

Krissoff, who has a series of military classes to complete before he can serve on active duty, may work in a Forward Resuscitative Surgical System or FRSS, according to Navy Bureau of Medicine spokesman Guy Schein.

"Dr. Krissoff is coming in as a reserve officer on a Navy medical tour, and I understand he will be deploying in Iraq sometime next year," Schein says.

Richard Kyle, a spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, says the type of injuries that Krissoff will likely see are mostly from bomb blasts and gunshots requiring quick stabilization of patients. Although drastically different from ski and sports injuries, the wounds he will tend to are well-suited to the orthopedic profession.

Krissoff, who worked as an emergency room doctor early in his career, says he's confident he will be able to deal with what comes across his operating table.

"I'm kind of going back to my roots," he says.

Because 42 is the Navy's age cutoff for medical officer enlistees, Krissoff was initially told that joining would be a difficult and lengthy process. So he pressed the issue and asked for the needed waiver from the highest authority he could find - President Bush.

Krissoff met Bush in August at an American Legion convention in Reno. The doctor described the personal meeting he had with the president immediately following the convention as a solemn experience with a small group of families grappling with the loss of loved ones in war.

Krissoff says Bush asked each family what he could do for them.

Krissoff told the president he wanted to serve.

After a brief moment, Bush deferred to Krissoff's wife, Christine, who has consistently supported her husband's decision. Krissoff says he pressed Bush about the matter with humor.

"'Sir, I'd like to serve but they told me I'm too old, but I'm younger than you, sir,'" Krissoff says, telling the story with a rare grin.

Humor aside, Zissimos says his friend is a private man devoted to those closest to him.

"He is very much a family man, and is very committed to the paths (his) sons have chosen for their careers," Zissimos says.

The ultimate sacrifice

Truckee native and Reno resident Marine 1st Lt. Nathan Krissoff died a year ago tomorrow in Iraq.

Krissoff, 25, was serving as a counterintelligence officer when he was injured by a roadside bomb in al-Anbar province while riding in a Humvee. He later succumbed to the injuries from the blast.

"He never felt like he shouldn't have been (in Iraq)," said Austin Krissoff in a Sierra Sun interview following his brother's death. "He wanted to serve his country in one way or another."

Krissoff posthumously received the "Navy and Marine Commendation Medal with the Combat Distinguishing Device for Valor."

Born in Truckee on March 29, 1981, Nathan Krissoff excelled as a student and an athlete. Growing up at Northstar, the two brothers loved skiing the backside of the mountain on powder days and shared a passion for whitewater kayaking, camping - anything outdoors.

Austin said his brother was deeply affected by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. He joined the Marines in 2004. Austin completed his Marine Corps basic training in 2006.

Never too old to serve

Dr. William Krissoff joins 44 physicians who enlisted as Navy doctors, says Lt. Commander Lisa Braun, Navy Recruiting Command public affairs officer.

Age, although a factor, is not the only qualification recruiters look at, says Braun.

"What we do when we recruit is we look at the total person," she says.

Recruits like Krissoff who qualify in every other category get the age waiver. Krissoff just got his a little quicker.

"I thought it was a prank when we got the call from the White House," Krissoff says. "Two days (after we met the president), the papers were given by Karl Rove to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We did a year's worth of work in two months."

The average age of general enlistees is 17 to 24 years of age. Currently 53 people over 60 are serving in all the branches of the military, according to Braun.

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To contact Andrew Cristancho, staff writer for the Sierra Sun, e-mail acristancho@sierrasun.com.

Forward Resuscitative Surgical System is a mobile, level-two trauma unit capable of surgery, according to American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons spokesman Dr. Richard Kyle.

"Eighty percent of the injuries are extremity injuries," Kyle said.

The numbers enforce the point that the conflict in Iraq is particularly well suited to the orthopedic profession. Because anything to do with the repair and rehabilitation of muscle and bone is under the purview of orthopedia, Kyle said.

A significant improvement in the Iraq war has been the survival rates of troops.

"The most remarkable thing in Iraq and Afghanistan is, if we can get a person stabilized in less than an hour's time, and that often happens, we have a 97 percent survival rate," said Guy Schein, Navy Bureau of Medicine spokesman.

Slideshow: Remembering a fallen son | www.theunion.com/krissoff


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The Union Updated Dec 8, 2007 04:20AM Published Dec 7, 2007 03:00AM Copyright 2007 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.