American surgical team making a difference in southern Philippines
By SOF Editor on Wed, 12/23/2009 - 10:05am
Five Airmen are operating a fully-equipped trauma center, providing emergency care, basic medical care and educational services to hundreds of Filipino and U.S. troops on the southern island of Jolo, Philippines. The Air Force members are part of the forward surgical team assigned to Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines. The team consists of a general surgeon, nurse anesthetist, two physician assistants specially trained in orthopedics and emergency medicine, and one operating room technician. They work as a close-knit team, but are deployed from five different Air Force bases. "Our primary mission here is to provide emergency resuscitative care and surgery for the U.S. forces assigned to Jolo," said Col. Michael Restey, FST's general surgeon and team leader. "We can also keep a patient here for post-operative surgery care for up to 72 hours, if needed, depending on the air assets available. And, we also assist the Philippine medical forces in their care of more than 3,000 members of the armed gorces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police." During their four-month deployment, the FST has treated more than 220 clinic patients and advised and assisted in the care of 32 combat casualties. This includes operative intervention in five patients critically injured, and took part in the care of more than 500 Filipinos during outreach medical clinics. Additionally, the FST has a long-standing relationship with several medical organizations in the area, including the AFP Trauma Center and the Sulu Provincial Hospital. Often, JSOTF-P's FST team will travel to these medical facilities and advise and assist with patient care. "We try to help them and can jump in if needed, as well as bring supplies, such as ventilators, for the patients. It is great working with the medical staff at the trauma center. They do a great job with the resources they have," Colonel Restey said. In fact, the team recently evaluated six PNP members that were admitted to the Provincial Hospital for treatment of severe burns and trauma sustained in an explosion in downtown Jolo. According to Restey, four of the patients were determined to have critical injuries and were transferred to the AFP Trauma Center where they were further resuscitated and stabilized with assistance from the FST prior to their evacuation by the Philippine air force to Zamboanga for further treatment. "They know they can call on us and we are always prepared to assist, should the need arise," Colonel Restey said. Jolo is one of the most dangerous municipalities in the Sulu province due to the presence of the militant group Abu Sayyaf, which has lead to violence and instability in the region. The threat of attack on AFP soldiers on Jolo makes it imperative that medical personnel are trained and equipped to handle mass numbers of injured troops. The FST consists of a fully equipped operating room, a four bed evaluation and resuscitation area, and an extensive medication and supply inventory to treat almost any medical or surgical emergency. In addition to being on-call 24 hours a day for emergencies, the FST is always ready to treat servicemembers with basic preventive care and routine check-ups. To accomplish emergency care, the teams have developed detailed plans that cover any type of contingency. From intricate triage and emergency evacuation plans, the team stands ready to assist when needed. FST members also live, eat, and sleep in the same building as the trauma facility, so they are always on-duty, ready to help. The FST also supports medical civic action projects in the surrounding barangays. FST members often accompany Army special forces medics and the JSOTF-P civil affairs team, assigned to Task Force Sulu. These teams provide medical and dental care, distribute prescription medications, and perform minor surgeries. "The heath care we receive here is good because it helps so many of us. We really can't afford these treatments and it builds good relationships with the community," said Hinjug Idris, a resident of Barangay Danag, who was given basic medical care at a recent MEDCAP. In addition to treating U.S. and Filipino patients, FST members participate in a variety of educational programs with the Notre Dame College of Nursing and the Jolo rescue unit. These exchanges allow them to share their expertise with local Filipino health care providers. "Though our primary mission is to care for U.S. personnel, we embrace the Army special forces spirit of providing not only medical care, but education and training to the AFP and civilians," said Lt. Col. Arnold Stocker, the team's nurse anesthetist, who has been involved in several of the training initiatives. In the past, medical teams have held courses on basic CPR, advanced cardiac and trauma life support, basic EMT procedures, and post-operative surgical nursing care. With capacity building as one of the cornerstones of the JSOTF-P mission, the FST continues to use their many skill sets to treat patients, educate medical providers and build relationships with their Filipino counterparts. "I am grateful for the Forward Surgical Team here in Jolo. The partnerships that they have with the AFP medical staff and the Sulu Provincial hospital has been vital to success of the overall JSOTF-P mission," said Army Maj. Scott Malone, the JSOTF-P TF Sulu commander.