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Ear, nose, throat surgery expands New Horizons for Belize
U.S. Air Force Capt. Quintin Hecht, audiologist from the 59th Surgical Specialty Squadron, Joint-Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, adjusts the fitting of a hearing aid on Cesar Alvarez during a surgery medical readiness training exercise at Western Regional Hospital in Belmopan, Belize, April 24, 2013. Medical professionals from the U.S. are providing free medical treatment at multiple medical readiness training exercises throughout Belize as part of an exercise known as New Horizons. The MEDRETES are designed to provide humanitarian assistance and medical care to people in several communities, while helping improve the skills of U.S. military medical forces. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech Sgt. Tony Tolley)
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Air Force, Army team takes ENT medicine to 'New Horizons'

Posted 6/28/2013   Updated 6/28/2013 Email story   Print story


by Tech. Sgt. Tony Tolley
1st Combat Camera Squadron

6/28/2013 - JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO- LACKLAND, Texas -- BELMOPAN, Belize - U.S. military medical personnel partnered with medical staff from the Western Regional hospital here recently to conduct a medical readiness training exercise focused on providing health care for the people of Belmopan.

Called New Horizons, the 13-day medical exercise held April 17 through May 1, provided ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgical procedures and hearing aids to patients who were most in need and met the criteria for these services. ENT surgery is the surgical treatment of diseases, injuries, or deformations of the ear, nose, throat, head, and neck areas. The purpose of this type of surgery is to treat abnormalities or defects to affected areas, according to members of the U.S. Army and Air Force medical team deployed to the region.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Quintin Hecht, an audiologist from the Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center's 59th Surgical Specialty Squadron, Joint-Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, was enthusiastic about the opportunity to help the local community and learn from the Belizean staff.

"The hospital staff is very knowledgeable and we are able to learn and share ideas with them. This is definitely one of the most rewarding things I have done," said Hecht. "It's an unforgettable experience, to provide patient care to the Belize population. At the end of the day, you see how grateful the patients and staff are, you feel the sense of pride and accomplishment."

The U.S. medical team, consisting of two Army and nine Air Force personnel, had to make a few adjustments to their temporary working environment. Equipment and supplies were brought from their stateside units to turn the surgical area in Belize into a fully functioning operating room needed for the complex surgeries conducted.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Brent Feldt, an ENT resident from the San Antonio Military Medical Center at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, said he enjoyed the challenges it took to work in an environment outside of the United States.

"Being a surgeon in the Air Force, I have learned a ton about what it takes to work in austere conditions and working with a team of individuals from multiple bases that you have never worked with before," Feldt said. "Working with patients who don't speak the same language can present obstacles in this type of environment, but we learn to work around these problems."

Modern ENT surgery and procedures have a lasting effect and improve quality of life for beneficiaries, according to the deployed medical staff.

"What we are trying to accomplish here, is to bring the same standard of ENT care to Belize that we offer (our patients) in the United States," said U.S. Army Maj. Travis Pfannenstiel, an ENT physician and colleague of Feldt's at the SAMMC.

"An ideal surgical procedure for an international humanitarian mission is one that has high quality-of-life impact, like the restoration of form and function, with minimal follow-up care," said U.S. Air Force Col. Mark Boston, a WHASC surgical services consultant who helps coordinate humanitarian medical missions on behalf of the 59th Medical Wing at JBSA-Lackland.

ENT medical personnel screened 182 patients, conducted 10 operations and 82 audiology evaluations, and dispersed 44 hearing aids during the international mission to Belize.

New Horizons is a U.S. Southern Command-led joint humanitarian assistance exercise, which is conducted annually with partner nations.

"U.S. Southern Command conducts missions to different countries besides Belize - such as Panama, Peru, Honduras, and Ecuador - to perform similar services," said Boston.

The number of personnel on these missions varies in size, depending on what is needed for surgical procedures, he said. "These missions are usually 13 days long so the medical team brings along a two-week inventory to sustain surgeries without relying on the host nation for support.

"What is first and foremost on these international deployments is training in groups. We focus on working alongside local nurses and physicians to provide education and training, and direct patient care," said Boston. "We aim to provide a tangible humanitarian benefit to the host nation and its citizens." (Portions of this story compiled and written by Master Sgt. Arian Nead, 59th Medical Wing Public Affairs)

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