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News | Sept. 17, 2009

JTF-Bravo surgical team helps local community in Comayagua

By Staff Sgt. Chad Thompson Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

A four-person surgical team from Joint Task Force-Bravo performed four surgeries Sept. 16 at a hospital in Comayagua, Honduras.

The surgeries were part of a weekly medical readiness training exercise, or MEDRETE, where JTF-Bravo's Mobile Surgical Team, or MST, assists with surgeries in La Paz and Comayagua hospitals. The four surgeries performed were a gallbladder removal, a hernia operation, a tonsillectomy and a thyroidectomy.

The MST is also tasked with providing life-saving surgical capability at JTF-Bravo and providing a deployable surgical team to support military missions and disaster relief.

Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Christopher Sanborn, JTF-Bravo Medical Element, was the lead surgeon for the MEDRETE and Dr. Jose Angel Mejia was the lead surgeon for the Comayagua surgical team.

Dr. Sanborn noticed that, despite a difference in languages spoken, the U.S. and Honduran doctors could often communicate simply based on shared medical experience and knowledge.
"Sometimes one of us is speaking English; the other is speaking Spanish," he said. "Yet frequently we can just look at one another and know what the other is thinking. So you know the training the doctors go through here is very similar to our training in the United States.'

Of course, they have great liaison officers, such as Dr. Miguel Coello who helped them with coordinating care and translating when they needed it, he said.

The MSTs mission also requires that it be able to easily adapt itself to a variety of cases, Dr. Sanborn said.

The thyroid surgery was a last-minute addition to their schedule and Air Force Maj. Rick Schott, the MST's operating room nurse, made the right adjustments in the surgical sets in order to accommodate the change in cases.

"It's times like that where we get to think on our feet," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Isaac Bermudez, JTF-Bravo, MEDEL surgical technician. "In an emergency situation we just have to rely on our training."

Sergeant Bermudez assisted Dr. Sanborn during each surgery by preparing the proper instruments, supplying Dr. Sanborn and Dr. Mejia with anything they needed, and making sure all items were organized and accounted for at the end of the surgery.

"These surgical MEDRETEs are a great chance for both for the local doctors and the military surgical team to share experience and deliver care to those who need it most," Dr. Sanborn said.

These MEDRETEs also give the JTF-Bravo medical team the opportunity to learn how to work with limited resources to improve their skills, he said.

JTF-Bravo physicians, nurses, and medics often accompany the MST to enhance their surgical and airway management skills. The MST nurse anesthetist, Air Force Maj. Mary Bernheim, conducts classes and training to help prepare these personnel to get the most out of the experience.

"Overall, the surgical MEDRETE is a mutually beneficial exchange," Dr. Sanborn said. In addition to the technical exchange between the surgeons, the U.S. team benefits by maintaining their surgical skills, and the Comayagua team benefits by gaining access to some specialized equipment and manpower to augment the local hospitals.