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News | Jan. 15, 2009

JTF-Bravo surgical team aims to improve quality of life

By Tech. Sgt. Rebecca Danét Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs office

A four-person surgical team from U.S. Southern Command's Joint Task Force-Bravo conducted two medical operations in La Paz, Honduras, Jan. 13, removing a man's gall bladder and repairing a hernia for a 5-year-old boy.

The team, including three Air Force medical personnel and one Army surgeon, worked with Dr. Blanca Dermith, Honduras' first female surgeon, at Dr. Roberto Suazo Cordova Hospital. The operations were a part of regularly scheduled Medical Readiness Training Exercises conducted weekly in La Paz and Comayagua, Honduras.

Army Maj. Ron Hyde, deployed from Ft. Knox, Ky., is the surgeon leading the team here. With the exception of the anesthetist, the group has been working together for nearly three months. During that time they've conducted approximately 20 surgeries with Dr. Dermith.

Like a well-practiced dance, Dr. Dermith and Dr. Hyde moved fluidly through the procedures together. As she completed a step and moved back, he leaned forward to take the lead.

"It's very good to work with such excellent colleagues," Dr. Dermith said of the military team. "Because of the complexity of some of the cases, we wouldn't be able to do it here without them," she said, referring to the operation on a 5-year-old boy.

Local anesthetists don't work with children under the age of six because of the complexity of such procedures and the limitations on available resources, Dr. Dermith said. If the Air Force anesthetist had been unable to complete the operation for any reason, the boy would have had to wait at least a month and travel more than 50 miles to Tegucigalpa to have his hernia repaired. If he stayed in La Paz, he would have to wait at least a year.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Lt. Col. Ritchie Grissett, deployed to JTF-Bravo from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is new to the surgical team. He arrived last week and jumped straight onto the surgical rotation.

"After completing the case, it was nice knowing that the child and mother didn't have to wait an extra month to have the procedure done," Lt. Col. Grissett said. "It puts the child one month closer to recovery and leading an active lifestyle like kids do."

Medical Readiness Training Exercises, or MEDRETEs, are conducted to give military medical personnel the opportunity to maintain their skills. They're also a chance for medics to learn from each other as well as from the local medical professionals they work with on site.

As the crew wrapped up for the day, they were already looking forward to their next missions here.

"I think this deployment will be different from all my other deployments," said Lt. Col. Grissett, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. "Doing life-saving traumas in Iraq is stressful, exhausting, and, after several months, really starts to wear you down emotionally.

"This one is different in that we're not really saving as many lives, but hopefully, we're improving the quality of (people's) lives. I hope to leave this deployment with a good feeling like we helped those who needed help."