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Fractionated laser technology helps improve movement for wounded warriors who have experienced burn injuries
Lt. Col. (Dr.) Chad Hivnor uses a carbon dioxide fractional laser to help improve skin texture and flexibility on a wounded warrior's arm at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett)
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Extraordinary medical breakthroughs; Air Force makes them possible

Posted 7/19/2013   Updated 7/19/2013 Email story   Print story


by Alexis Culver
59th Medical Wing Public Affairs

7/19/2013 - JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- Imagine a world with no cellphones, computers or electricity; no television to watch your favorite sitcom, and no cars to meet up with your friends or medicine to cure you when you're sick.

Many aspects of our lives would cease to exist without science and technology; the lives of today's warfighters are no different. They rely on the 59th Medical Wing's Chief Scientist's Office, more commonly referred to as the Science and Technology Division (ST), to sustain their health and performance.

Located at the Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, ST employs innovative technologies to sustain service members' health and performance. These warriors devote their lives to fighting for our country while 59th MDW Chief Scientist Dr. Debra Niemeyer and members of the Science and Technology Division devote their lives to improving care for them.

"We help support and drive research that changes how we conduct medicine and transform health care," Niemeyer said. "We support our clinicians, staff, and many investigators in performing research that will actually change how we care for our patient population."

The office supports research in several areas such as statistics, program management, scientific reviews, and budget analysis. Additionally, it ensures both major commands and principle investigators are up to date on the latest Air Force and wing research policies, submission processes, and opportunities for funding.

A recent breakthrough involves saving the critically ill who are being flown half-way around the world to more definitive care here in San Antonio.

ST helped Lt. Col. (Dr.) Jeremy Cannon, the chief of trauma and acute care surgery at the San Antonio Military Medical Center, located at nearby Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, to obtain funding for the Defense Medical Research and Development Program. The program supports adult extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation. Commonly known as adult ECMO, it's a heart-lung bypass system that keeps patients who are severely wounded or extremely ill alive during global transport.

The ECMO mission here is the only one in the Department of Defense. A joint military medical team recently completed the longest ECMO patient transfer ever recorded - a 5,000-mile mission and the first transatlantic flight of an adult patient hooked to an external lung.

"The Science and Technology Division was able to identify the capability gap and then the source of funding; then match my proposal together with the capability gap and use this funding to establish the initial capability to support our Air Force and Joint Medical Combat Causality Care needs," Cannon said. "We would not have been able to do any of this, meaning proof of concept - setting up an adult ECMO team for the Department of Defense and saving the lives of now five patients."

Niemeyer said the adult ECMO program allows our medics to transport severely injured or ill patients from overseas battle zones to medical facilities here, and then from these facilities to others within the United States or around the world.

"We've been able to transport both wounded warriors and beneficiaries because they receive in-transit medical care that ordinarily would not be available if the technology did not exist," she said.

It is also through education, training and research that ST improves patient care, and the division continues to make progress.

"We have numerous protocols funded with two-year research dollars that have resulted in improvements to patient care. For example, working with Lt. Col. (Dr.) Chad Hivnor, 59th Medical Wing dermatology residency program director, in supporting fractionated laser technology to help improve movement for wounded warriors who have experienced burn injuries," Niemeyer said. "He's been able to use a laser approach to help improve mobility and reduce scarring so that individuals can have prosthetic devices that are fitted more appropriately."

The most rewarding aspect of being able to use laser technology to treat wounded warriors scars is building relationships with them, Hivnor said.

"Our inclusive care of amputations with laser hair removal and Botox as well as our lasers afford full encompassing care to our warriors," he said. "The relationships formed with these individuals allow me to help them recover by the subtle things I can do, but more importantly to care about them as an individual and an American."

Niemeyer said teamwork was critical in achieving any of breakthroughs.

"I have a very talented team of individuals with a tremendous amount of expertise who are here to assist our investigators in ensuring that their ideas get the paper. We are here to help them find the dollars to get their research funded," she said.

"We've had tremendous support from our senior-most leadership, from General Travis (U.S. Air Force Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Thomas Travis) and General Hepburn (Maj. Gen. Byron Hepburn, commander of the 59th MDW and director of the San Antonio Military Health System)," said Niemeyer. "They are strong advocates for ensuring that people understand research is a very important part of our medical mission."

"Furthermore," she said, "without strong coordination across the wing from resource management, logistics and contracts support to the staff at the 59th Clinical Research Division, and collaboration with our SAMMC partners, particularly the Department of Clinical Investigations, these breakthroughs in patient care would not be possible."

7/22/2013 11:38:37 AM ET
Great Article. Very well written.
Larry Smedley, FT Sam Houston
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