Physician performs Air Force’s first airway stent procedure

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Seth Haddix
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs

Two patients with metastatic lung cancer were rushed to an operating room at Keesler Air Force Base’s 81st Medical Group, struggling to breathe as tumors constricted their airways.

Maj. Derrell Nettlow, 81st Healthcare Operations Squadron pulmonary critical care physician, was called to perform the Air Force’s first airway stent procedure to give both patients the ability to breathe.

“I spent hours preparing for the operation,” Nettlow said. “I prepared the equipment and ran through the process in the operating room. I knew this was something I was capable of accomplishing.”

With help from the pulmonary critical care clinic, Nettlow was able to successfully burn the tumors and open the patients’ airways with palliative airway stents, a tube placed into the throat that prevents it from closing.

“Nettlow’s advanced pulmonary skill set was critical for this procedure and the timing was perfect,” said Maj. John Untisz, 81st Healthcare Operations Squadron pulmonary critical care physician. “He was not only able to give the patients the ability to breathe but also gifted them the best quality of life.”

This procedure marks another successful adoption by the Air Force of a medical advancement, which will enable the service to work faster and smarter in life-saving situations.    

After the intense procedure, Nettlow recognized the positive impact of the situation, using this experience as an example of adapting to any life-saving situations for the medical field.

“The more complex procedures we offer and the more patients we see, the more prepared we are down range,” Nettlow said. “Developing procedural skill sets will prepare us for any operations overseas and advance our capabilities.”

Nettlow believes this procedure can set a precedent for new medical capabilities going forward.

“Airway stenting will become more common,” Nettlow said. “I see an increase in demand for this operation, and we will be able to treat more patients. This opportunity can set a precedent for our future and reach new medical possibilities across the country.”