News>Airmen deliver compassion, medical care to Peruvians
Capt. Jody Huss, right, checks the vital signs of a Peruvian patient at a health response team Expeditionary Medical Support mobile field hospital in Huancavelica, Peru, July 2, 2012, during New Horizons 2012. New Horizons is a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored annual series of joint humanitarian assistance exercises deploying U.S. military engineers, veterinarians, medics and other professions to Central and South American nations for training, construction projects and to provide humanitarian and medical services. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael C. Zimmerman)
Maj. (Dr.) Nathon Schwamburger, left, extracts a tooth from a Peruvian patient at a health response team Expeditionary Medical Support mobile field hospital in Huancavelica, Peru, July 2, 2012, during New Horizons 2012. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael C. Zimmerman)
Air Force doctors and medics help a sick Peruvian boy at an expeditionary dental clinic in an Expeditionary Medical Support mobile field hospital in Huancavelica, Peru, July 3, 2012, as part of New Horizons 2012. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael C. Zimmerman)
A Peruvian boy gives a thumbs up after surgery at an Expeditionary Medical Support mobile field hospital in Huancavelica, Peru, July 2, 2012, during New Horizons 2012. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael C. Zimmerman)
Air Force doctors and medics help a sick Peruvian boy at an expeditionary dental clinic in an Expeditionary Medical Support mobile field hospital in Huancavelica, Peru, July 3, 2012, as part of New Horizons 2012. New Horizons is a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored annual series of joint humanitarian assistance exercises deploying U.S. military engineers, veterinarians, medics and other professions to Central and South American nations for training, construction projects and to provide humanitarian and medical services. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael C. Zimmerman)
by Capt. Candace N. Park
12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs
7/25/2012 - HUANCAVELICA, Peru (AFNS) -- A high school physics and chemistry teacher was struck by a second calling about nine years ago: to serve his country as a U.S. Air Force physician.
Today, Capt. (Dr.) James Small wakes up in the remote, mountainous region of Huancavelica, Peru, energized to start a full day of patient care in his new office: an Emergency Medical Support (EMEDS) Health Response Team (HRT) mobile hospital set up in a soccer field nearly 13,500 feet above sea level.
Small, and about 40 of his fellow medical professionals from the 633rd Medical Group from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., are taking part in New Horizons, a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored annual joint and combined training and humanitarian assistance exercise that takes place throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
In cooperation with the Peruvian government, three weeks ago truckloads of pallets traveled more than 11 hours up winding mountain roads to a dirt soccer field in Huancavelica, where the Air Force team and Peruvian soldiers unloaded the trucks. The U.S. and Peruvian service members worked for nearly 24 hours to unpack the boxes and assemble their contents into a 22-room, 6,300 square-foot, network of medical tents that comprise the EMEDS HRT hospital.
"I was absolutely blown away--it was so impressive--from the moment we reached the compound and we saw the network of tents that were set up," said Maj. Gen. Mark Sears, U.S. Southern Command's deputy commander for mobilization and reserve affairs, who visited the EMEDS HRT site. "And to think of the incredible logistics of how it had to be moved in and set up; then we got inside and saw all of the activities that were going on and the people that they were treating. It was absolutely phenomenal."
In preparation to deploy as part of New Horizons Peru 2012, the EMEDS HRT trained and worked together for about six months. They rehearsed how the EMEDS would be assembled, who would work where and how patients would flow in and out of the facility.
This deployment experience has brought them closer together as a team, Small said.
"We've pulled together, we've bonded, and we've gotten to know one another," he said. "This experience will make us a better hospital back at home station and prepare us to deploy in future contingencies."
The EMEDS HRT is comprised of a variety of light and lean modular, rapid response medical packages that can be used in a myriad of operations such as humanitarian relief, wartime contingencies and disaster response.
Small said that this exercise has renewed his spirit as a physician.
"I think it makes me a better person to see the world from a different perspective--it makes me a better doctor, gives me a compassion and understanding for the human side of medicine."
As the EMEDS HRT mobile hospital was finally set up in the soccer field in Huancavelica, a little more than two weeks ago, a buzz ignited in the community, and people began lining up for appointments to receive care in one of the five specialties the EMEDS HRT offers: pediatrics, internal medicine, family medicine, gynecology, and dental.
Small described the Peruvians who gather to wait in the middle of the night in the freezing temperatures as "cheerful" and "truly grateful" for the opportunity to receive medical care as they make their way into his clinic.
"The patients have only met you for a minute, yet they fully give you their trust," Small said. "I've been reminded throughout this experience that there's a true element of trust that is the doctor-patient relationship."
With the assistance of interpreters provided by the Peruvian regional government and health ministry, each specialty clinic of the HRT attends to a max of about 70 patients per day for a total daily patient count of about 350. In addition, about three patients receive general or orthopedic surgery per day in the facility. Over the EMEDS HRT's four-week deployment, medics anticipate they will attend to about 7,000 patients.
But, Small said it isn't about the number of patients per day he sees that make this experience the one he's been anticipating since he joined the Air Force. For the teacher-turned-doctor, it's the human side of medicine that has been the most rewarding.
"The 30 minutes you spend with one patient might be the most important time they've spent with a person in years," Small said. "You're connecting with them during that time you spend together in the tent--you're reassuring them that they are healthy, and they are so grateful for their care.
"I think after the fundamental necessities of life -food, water, shelter, safety--most people desire health," Small said. "They want to live a long life. Having an option to see a physician can give them reassurance about their life."
Small said the experience in the EMEDS HRT is making him a better health professional.
"I'm having an opportunity to do what I hoped I'd do eventually," Small said. "I'm going to come away from here with a deeper level of compassion and appreciation of what I can do for my patients. The patients at home aren't any different from those I'm seeing here, but somehow being in a different place intensifies your understanding of who you are as a physician."
The EMEDS HRT is just one of several parts of the humanitarian assistance and training exercise New Horizons ongoing in Peru until the end of August.
Air Force and Army medics are working alongside Project Hope, a non-government organization, to bring medical care to 11 communities, where they set up community clinics in schools so citizens can receive free medical care. New Horizons medics anticipate they will attend to 30,000 patients between the EMEDS HRT and the various medical readiness and training exercise locations.
Additionally, U.S. and Peruvian military engineers are working side-by-side on two community infrastructure construction projects in the Ica region of Peru: a clinic in Independencia, and a multi-use community center in Tambo de Mora. Both of the towns where construction is taking place were devastated by an earthquake in 2007.
"I've had an opportunity to visit several of the sites," Sears said. "It's a critical piece in, not only bringing infrastructure and training for our folks, but just the relationship building overall for our country with this partner nation."
Sears said military-to-military training exercises like New Horizons are very valuable preparation to respond together to future regional challenges, like natural disasters. He said the regional response to the Haiti earthquake relief efforts seen in 2010 were a great example of regional collaboration enhanced by previous combined training.
"Like with Haiti relief, when all the countries in this (region) want to help out one of their own, they're going to send whoever they can and the experts they can," Sears said. "But if they've had an opportunity to train beforehand, not only with U.S. forces but with responding forces from other partner nations, it just helps that collective regional response to be even more effective."
The three-month New Horizons Peru activities will culminate in a disaster response subject matter expert exchange between U.S. and Peruvian first responders, where about 150 participants will practice responding to a simulated earthquake and an aircraft crash scenario.