Comfort Surgeons Remove Bullet Fragments, Shrapnel from Colombian Man’s Jaw
By Dialogo June 12, 2009TUMACO, Colombia (June 10, 2009) -- Surgeons aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) performed a series of procedures to remove bullet fragments and shrapnel from the face of a Colombian man here. The patient, 31-year-old Giovanni Meza from Tumaco, came to Comfort seeking the humanitarian assistance provided by the Continuing Promise 2009 (CP09) team. The procedures performed were a left open joint, coronoidectomy and facial scar revision and extraction of bullet fragments and shrapnel the patient acquired during a firefight about a month ago. “This is the first procedure of its kind for the mission,” said Lt. Cmdr. Victor Diaz, Comfort nurse anesthetist. “It is unique because it was the first time we’ve used a fiber optic scope to insert the nasal breathing apparatus.” Comfort is in Colombia as part of CP09, which combines U.S. military and interagency personnel, non-governmental organizations, civil service mariners, academic and partner nations to provide medical, dental, veterinary and engineering services afloat and ashore alongside host nation personnel. Surgical teams have done similar procedures to this one, but none employed the use of this exclusive technology. These technological capabilities are made possible by the combined efforts of every member of the CP09 team, including mission partners from Brazil. “It is interesting to see how other countries perform in the surgical environment,” said Lt. Isabele Bulhoes, Comfort emergency medical treatment surgeon, member of the Brazilian Navy and a key component to Meza’s successful operation. “We are doing a lot here for the people of Colombia. Patients here would normally have to travel great distances and pay much for this kind of treatment. I can see we are doing much good given the large number of surgical patients here in Tumaco.” Not only did a few of the mission’s international partners contributed to the surgery, but the many humanitarian volunteers with several U.S.-based non-governmental organizations (NGO) also bring many years of experience and expertise to each and every operating room on Comfort. Meza’s operation included two NGO’s: Project HOPE and students from the University of California, San Diego, who were watching and learning as the leading surgeon for the operation, Lt. Cmdr. Samira Meymand, talked them step-by-step through each milestone of the procedure. “The mission and each operation we’ve seen has been a blast,” said Matthew Vavrik, UCSD pre-dental student onboard Comfort. “I’ve never been to Latin America or the Caribbean and this has been a real eye opening experience for me. The really interesting thing about this mission is the fact it isn’t just a U.S. military mission.” “Being able to be a part of this and receive mentorship from the dentists onboard has been great,” said Wendy Westberry, UCSD pre-dental student onboard Comfort. “I’m hooked and ready for next year’s mission.” Project HOPE provided the surgery team with a registered nurse, Eliza Speakman, who ensured each team member had the tools, equipment and medicines needed to properly repair Meza’s damaged jaw. “The opportunity to work in an operating room on a ship is a once in a lifetime experience,” Speakman said. “This mission is important for Project HOPE as it gives us an opportunity to work with the military and host nations to develop friendships in the nature of partnership.” CP09 provides an opportunity not only to provide humanitarian assistance but also to learn from host nation partners and train a diverse team of experts who are able to respond to a regional crisis. Additionally, surgeries such as these encompass the spirit of the CP09 mission. The combination of each member’s traits and attributes partnered with the host nation’s U.S. embassy and professional medical community bring hope and life to the patients and their families. Meza told his surgery staff, “You are all like guardian angels to me.” Comfort is scheduled to visit two more countries to wrap up this year’s Continuing Promise mission: El Salvador and Nicaragua. The ship is scheduled to be in Colombia through June 17. CP09 teams onboard have already helped more than 45,000 patients in Antigua and Barbuda, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Panama.