Medical Airmen train with Honduran ENT residents

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Mike Meares
  • Joint Task Force - Bravo Public Affairs
The hallways inside Hospital Escuela and sidewalks outside are lined with patients who have come here from throughout Honduras.

The patients are waiting to be seen by medical residents at this training hospital specializing in the ear, nose and throat treatment. The residents have been joined by experts from Wilford Hall Medical Center in Texas and the U.S. Air Force Academy hospital in Colorado as part of a two-week medical readiness training exercise, or MEDRETE, that began June 12 and concludes today.

"Sometimes (Airmen) deploy to places like Iraq and have to operate," said Lt. Col. (Dr.) Drew Horlbeck, a surgeon and neuro-otologist at Wilford Hall. "MEDRETEs prepare us to adapt in austere places and be able to better perform surgical procedures."

This provided training on both fronts for the teams. Airmen used the opportunity to learn to work in a more challenging medical environment. With the help of a translator, Honduran residents mirrored the techniques, shadowed the experts and learned from the Airmen's numerous experiences.

"Some of the cases we see here aren't seen in the states because medical care prevents them from getting so severe," Dr. Horlbeck said. "These patients don't have the opportunity like this all the time because they don't have the equipment."

Dr. Horlbeck and more than 40 Airmen are deployed here with equipment for two fully functional operating rooms to treat patients and provide hands-on training and instruction to residents at the hospital.

"We do these kind of cases here, but they are spread out (throughout the year)," said Enrique Cruz, a fourth-year chief resident of the ENT program at Hospital Escuela. "It's been a good experience for both sides. When these (exercises) come, we get a lot of experience working these types of surgeries."

Sixty-eight patients were pre-screened in preparation for the medical team's visit. Each case is evaluated and selected on severity. Of the cases screened, 32 were selected to receive surgery at a rate of four per day. Patients go through pre-operation and post-operation tests, and records are kept in English and Spanish.

"Everything (patients) get here is exactly what we provide in the states," said Maj. (Dr.) Cecelia Schmalbach, an ENT surgeon from Wilford Hall.

Many people, ages 6 to 60, waited outside for hours and sometimes days to see the physicians. This made for 12-plus hours per day for the medical team. Some only needed hearing tests, while others -- like 14-year-old Allen Chacon -- were there for follow-ups from last year's MEDRETE.

For more than six years he suffered from chronic middle ear infections, threatening total hearing loss. He was chosen for surgery to repair a hole in his ear drum and came in for a follow-up this year.

"Allen's hearing test score from his (pre-operation) screening dramatically improved and his ear drum is totally healed," said Maj. (Dr.) Keith Swartz, chief of ENT surgery at the academy.

It's success stories like Allen's that Capts. April Myers and Loraine Wyan, staff audiologists at Wilford Hall, look forward to during their visit. As part of the team, they brought 52 hearing aids to hand out to needy candidates.

"If you can get to the children early and correct their hearing, they can develop their speech," said 1st Lt. Eric Baroni, Joint Task Force - Bravo Medical Element physician assistant. "If you can't hear, you can't pronounce words properly."

Each year medical teams visit, train and operate in environments outside the United States. Through this partnership, Honduran residents and Airmen alike are grateful for the training they receive.

When Airmen depart, they will leave the Honduran medical residents at the hospital more prepared and confident to perform medical procedures. These procedures help to fulfill the physician's oath -- to concentrate their life to the service to humanity.