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Ophthalmology Flight brings eye care to Panama patients

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Nicole Roberts
  • 59th Medical Wing Public Affairs
Members of the 59th Surgical Specialties Squadron Ophthalmology Flight at Wilford Hall Medical Center participated in a humanitarian mission providing eye surgery and exams for more than 500 Panamanian patients at the La Regional Hospital in La Chorrera, Panama, May 9-22.

The hospital, located approximately 20 kilometers outside of Panama City, Panama, cares for patients who cannot afford to pay for their medical care.

The six-person team from the 59th Medical Wing's Refractive Surgery Center included Lt. Col. (Dr.) Charles Reilly, consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General for refractive surgery; Col. (Dr.) Jonathon Briggs, ophthalmologist; Capt. (Dr.) Kristine Pierce, ophthalmology resident; Master Sgt. Jennifer Whitmore, NCO-in-charge of the ophthalmology department; Airman 1st Class Joany Nunez, ophthalmic technician; and Pamela Singleton, ophthalmology technician.

Colonel Reilly led the team with his experience from nine previous humanitarian missions.

"We couldn't have asked for a better team leader," said Airman Nunez. "Colonel Reilly was very on top of things, was a great motivator and made it a very pleasant experience. He, along with the Ministry of Health in Panama, U.S. Embassy; U.S. Southern Command; Air Forces Southern, the 59th MDW Humanitarian and Civic Assistance office, and the rest of the hospital's ophthalmology team, made it possible for this mission to be the most successful humanitarian mission out of our clinic thus far."

The team worked 14 hour days for 13 days, performing as many surgeries on as many patients as they could.

"We were all willing to put in the long hours," said Airman Nunez. "There were times when the doctors would squeeze in a patient or two between surgeries, to do basic screening tests. There were days when we ended up doing five extra surgeries in a day than were originally projected."

The Wilford Hall Medical Center Ophthalmology Flight has conducted 49 humanitarian missions to date. The May trip to Panama was the most successful, with 145 cataract and pterygium surgeries performed and 527 patients examined.

"You end up with a great feeling of accomplishment after it's all said and done. I actually helped cure someone's blindness," said Airman Nunez. "It makes you feel important, and it reminds me of why I joined the US Air Force - to go to extraordinary places, do extraordinary things and help extraordinary people."