New Horizons medical team supports exercise personnel, Hondurans

  • Published
  • By Capt. David J. Murphy
  • 1st Combat Camera Squadron
New Horizons Honduras 2015 training exercise medical personnel provided medical support to exercise personnel and Hondurans from June to early August.

In addition to the medical personnel, Airmen from the 35th Combat Communications Squadron out of Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, repaired the hospital's ailing network, bringing Internet connectivity to nine offices that hadn't had service in more than three years, and improving connectivity in existing offices.

The 15-person medical team is made up of a general surgeon, anesthesiologist, operating room nurse, emergency medicine provider, biomedical equipment technician and 10 emergency medical technicians. The team's primary mission is to support all exercise personnel with point-of-injury immediate care before transfer to a main mobile forward surgical team.

"If someone gets injured here on the construction or well site we can provide immediate treatment to include self-aid (and) buddy care, and IVs and intubation," said Staff Sgt. Brian Milner, a member of the 341st Medical Operations Squadron from Malmstrom AFB, Montana. "And once we stabilize the patient, we can transport them, via ambulance, to the hospital where they will receive follow-on care."

While the medical team supported all New Horizons personnel, their main mission was to provide support to the Airmen from the 823rd RED HORSE Squadron from Hurlburt Field, Florida, and Marines from the Marine Wing Support Squadron 271 from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, during the construction of a new two-classroom schoolhouse in Ocotes Alto and the wells in both Honduras Aguan and Brisas del Mar.

The team's secondary mission is humanitarian in nature and has involved medical support to the Hondurans in the Dr. Salvador Paredes Hospital in downtown Trujillo in both the operating and emergency rooms.

"To date we've probably had about 100 surgical cases and consults and in the emergency room we've probably seen about 600 patients," said Maj. Norman Zellers, a 60th Medical Operations Squadron medical physician assistant from Travis AFB, California. "By the time we leave here we should have seen about 800 patients total."

Zellers is in charge of the emergency room but the team's surgeon, anesthesiologist and operating room nurse support operating room activities.

"We've done a pretty wide breadth of surgeries at this point," said U Maj. Ryan Jones, the 56th Medical Operations Squadron general surgeon from Luke AFB, Arizona. "Anywhere from amputation to hernia repair to gall bladder surgery. I find the Honduran people very grateful for this service that we're providing, it's irreplaceable."

New Horizons medical and hospital personnel are working side by side during medical activities with their Honduran counterparts not only to assist one another but also to exchange information.

Besides medical care, the team has also been able to support the hospital in other ways by lending them the support of their biomedical equipment technician, according to Tech. Sgt. Mark Lopez, a member of the 375th Medical Support Squadron from Scott AFB, Illinois.

"These hospitals don't have a biomedical equipment technician. They don't really have a facilities maintenance of management office," Lopez said. "What they have is electrician and maintenance men and air conditioning technicians to fill in the roles to take care of the equipment ... they do what they can. I'm more familiar with the more complicated systems ... I can take care of anything from a simple blood pressure machine to an MRI unit and everything in between."

Lopez's primary mission involved supporting the operating room doctors when any of their equipment malfunctions.

"As they perform surgeries I need to be immediately next to them ... in the surgery, helping out or on standby whenever the equipment experiences a failure ... because they have moments when they have a patient on the table to make decisions to close them up or keep going and I'm right there as a contingency plan mostly," Lopez said.

The hospital also received leftover supplies that were delivered to support the medical personnel during the exercise.

"I'm very grateful for the New Horizons exercise," said Melissa Bonegas, the Dr. Salvador Paredes Hospital director. "I'm very glad that you have a surgeon and doctors that were able to see patients and help them out. I'm also very pleased with the communications people who were able to help out with electricity and were able to fix the Internet. I'm also very grateful that we were able to donate some paint which will help better maintain the hospital."