NEWS | March 30, 2012

Mobile Surgical Team builds relationships, hones skills one surgery at a time

By Staff Sgt. Bryan Franks JTF-Bravo Public Affairs

Performing surgery is never easy. Even in perfect circumstances, one thing gone wrong, can literally mean a life or death situation. The Mobile Surgical Team constantly trains for this reality, but also hones their skills for situations that the average team never faces.

The MST, assigned to the Medical Element at Joint Task Force-Bravo, Soto Cano AB, Honduras performs weekly surgical medical readiness training exercises ranging from gallbladder removal to repairing hernias, in LaPaz and Comayagua, benefiting the local Honduran population that lives near JTF-B.

Performing these surgical MEDRETES allows the MST to work together and exercise their skills while providing humanitarian medical assistance for those needing general surgery procedures.

"By interacting with the local hospitals, we not only get to keep our skills sharp and build up goodwill, but we also become familiar with both the personnel and the facilities, said Army Col. George Peoples, MST surgeon. "I believe that these missions help maintain positive relationships between us and the local Honduran community."

Whenever the team is in surgery, they work hand-in-hand with surgeons, nurses, anesthesia providers and medical technicians.

"This is critically important for those times when we need to work together with our Honduran colleagues such as during mass casualty events or natural disasters," said Peoples. "We are always greeted warmly by the local Hondurans when we enter the hospitals."

The surgical MEDRETES take place three times a week and allows the mobile surgical team to maintain surgical skills.

"In the event of a MASCAL," said Army Maj. James Eads, MST nurse anesthetist. "The surgical team is ready to meet the demands because the teams' surgical skills are being maintained on a weekly basis."

Because the team conducts these exercises as if they were responding to a MASCAL event or natural disaster, they bring all their own equipment, saving the hospitals in communities' resources and manpower.

Recently, the mobile surgical team mobilized and established an assembly area to the local hospital in Comayagua during the Comayagua prison fire and was available to provide assistance as needed, Eads said. The next week, the team performed follow-on surgical procedures on prisoners needing irrigation and debridement of burns.

Traveling to hospitals also challenges the team's ability to adapt to conditions much like they may face during a crisis situation.

The hospitals they frequent are also not what you see in the U.S, Peoples said. Most are small and are very basic without many amenities. The operating rooms are much like the hospitals--poorly equipped with minimal lighting.

Communication with Honduran medical personnel is always a challenge, but this is mostly mitigated by the medical translators that make up part of the MST.

"We do have excellent medical translators (LNOs) assigned to our surgical missions," Eads said. "Without them, we would not be able to collaborate with the Honduran medical personnel or teach the Honduran medical personnel on various surgical procedures and surgical techniques."

But for the team, providing quality medical care is their main objective as well as building relationship, which will only improve future missions' success--not only for the team but the patients they treat.

"I'm appreciative that our command supports these missions as I believe that they are extremely important," Peoples said. "The missions would not be possible if weren't for the dedicated efforts of our LNO staff that coordinates and accompanies us on every mission."

For one member of the surgical team, new personal goals were made after seeing the condition his Honduran counterparts work with on a daily basis.

"I have personally challenged myself to go back to the U.S., contact other anesthesia providers, surgeons and surgical personnel, with the hope of coming back to provide medical supplies, newer equipment and even plan a volunteer surgical mission to Honduras," Eads said. "I have met some wonderful Honduran people in the medical field which I hope to maintain a friendship following this deployment."