A team of some 50 U.S. service members from U.S. Southern Command’s Joint Task Force Bravo (JTF-Bravo), specializing in ophthalmology, dentistry, and orthopedics, is working side by side with medical and technical personnel from the Guatemalan and Honduran ministries of Health in the Health Engagement Assistance Response Team 2022 (HEART 22).
“Providing care to those most in need is very rewarding,” U.S. Air Force Captain Alexandre Rogan, officer in charge of the HEART 22 team in Honduras, told Diálogo on Aug. 25. “We want to continue to build this relationship with our neighbors, continue to work together. At the end of the day, seeing how we were able to help is very satisfying.”
Multinational medical engagement exercise HEART 22 is being carried out in Guatemala at the National Ophthalmologic Unit and Western Regional Hospital, in Quetzaltenango department; and at the University Teaching Hospital (HEU) in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. It began on July 18 and will last until mid-September 2022. U.S., Guatemalan, and Honduran medical professionals are performing surgeries in three specialties: general eye and corneal transplant surgeries; general orthopedic, trauma, and spine surgeries; and restorative dental surgeries.
“Over the past four weeks U.S. and Honduran military physicians, along with medical personnel from the [Guatemalan and] Honduran ministries of Health, are providing medical care to more than 2,000 local patients who waited a long time for medical treatment,” the U.S. Embassy in Honduras said in a press release.
Capt. Rogan added that these medical procedures are helping more people than planned, since “the plan was to help about 350 patients in Honduras and that number has already been far exceeded.”
In addition, in Honduras the brigade donated three dental chairs with dental units to the HEU specifically for pediatric dentistry, which did not have a special area.
JTF-Bravo has been providing medical care since October 1993, with more than 300 missions, and its medical personnel have attended more than 340,000 general patients and 70,000 dental patients in Central America up to late August 2022, HEART 22 Public Relations Office told Diálogo.
One of the most complex and interesting cases was treated in Honduras by two orthopedic oncology specialists: U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Steven Thorpe, an orthopedic oncology surgeon; and Dr. Tito Livio Funes, the only orthopedic oncology surgeon in Honduras who specializes in limb salvage.
This case was resolved without the amputation of the affected limb of a 28 year old woman diagnosed with a malignant tumor in her left leg. This type of cancer usually manifests in long bones such as arms or legs and affects children and young adults.
“This specific orthopedic oncology case was quite complex. She presented with a fairly large mass. With Dr. Thorpe we dissected the tumor and placed a prosthesis. We replaced her distal femur with a metal one and did a total knee replacement, with hinges, which will make a difference for the patient because it will allow her to walk, carry out her activities, and go back to as close to normal as possible,” Dr. Funes told Diálogo.
“Collaborating and seeing how they approach cases compared to how I would approach them is very good for our specialty, which is very rare in general in the world,” Lt. Col. Thorpe told Diálogo.
Among the main objectives of HEART 22 is to relieve pressure on partner nations’ medical systems, increase patient resilience, and strengthen relationships. “This response team is how we come together with our partners,” Capt. Rogan said.
“Coming together and making sure we engage in the areas that are most needed is important, because we care about each of our partners. I think it’s crucial to make sure that we continue to strengthen those partnerships and those ties, and make sure that we help each other,” he concluded.