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Maxwell medics return from Peru

by Staff Sgt. Sarah Loicano
Air University Public Affairs

8/3/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. (AFNS) -- Nine members of the 42nd Medical Group recently returned from New Horizons, an ongoing joint humanitarian training exercise in Peru.

An annual series of free medical clinics and infrastructure development projects, New Horizons is a U.S. Southern Command-led exercise conducted with Latin American and Caribbean nations to enhance international disaster response capabilities and cooperation. Maxwell's medical team of 17, including eight from other Air Force bases, joined 500 other U.S. and Peruvian military doctors, engineers and support staff in New Horizons 2012, which runs through Aug. 31.

"There were six services we were tasked to provide: general medicine, pediatrics, dermatology, obstetrics and gynecology, optometry and dental and of course, all of those much-needed pharmacy support," explained John Henry, the 42nd Medical Group Readiness Flight chief and Maxwell New Horizons team chief.

A trip of this magnitude, Henry said, required extensive arrangements; he'd been planning this trip since October 2011.

"This area was hit hard by the earthquake in 2007," Henry said. "We did some site visits and we'd mostly end up working out of the schools. It's like putting a puzzle together, trying to make things work, but when the team showed up, we hit the ground running."

Working at two locations, San Clemente and Tupac Amaru, Maxwell's team treated more than 7,000 people over a 10 day period. When the team opened the clinic for the first day of medical services, 1,000 people were already lined up.

"I've done a lot of these and I've never seen a demand that great at one time. The line just never seemed to end," Henry said. "Some of them will show up at 2 a.m. to try to be near the front of the line and we try to manage the crowd and do our best to see everyone, but there comes a point in time when you have to stop. It's kind of humbling ... you wish you could take your kids so they can see how good they have it."

Given $85,000 for supplies and equipment, the team purchased bandages, gauze, needles, eyeglasses, eye drops and various medical supplies, which Henry said were all the supplies the team would have access to during their exercise.

"They try to teach better medical practices and try to do your job to the standards you're used to with bare bones, basic medicine," he said. "They have to learn to work with the limitations of supplies and medicine."

With the large number of patients waiting to be seen and a fixed amount of supplies, the medical team focused on treating as many people as possible by working from two clinic locations. The group also referred serious cases to local hospitals, which were better equipped to handle life-threatening situations and chronic diseases.

"Without having to tear down and put back up every day, we were able to keep doors open longer and treat more patients," said Capt. Mike Calhoun, a 42nd MDG optometry flight commander. "We aren't documenting each case like we do here for medical records, so we can treat more people each day. What we were trying to do is do the most good for the most people we could. These people would wait all night to get seen; we never left anyone empty-handed."

Overall, the team saw a huge demand for optometry services, including treatment for cataracts and glaucoma, skin disorders, and respiration problems, especially amongst the children.

"It's really neat when I see a kid who needs glasses to see more than a few inches, and suddenly he can see. That increases his world. It may not be perfect, but it still changes his life," Calhoun said. "I bet that kid goes to sleep with those glasses on."

Immediate results are gratifying, Calhoun said, but one of the most important things they can do with their time there is help teach patients how to prevent future medical issues.
"A lot of what we do there is education on how to take care of their eyes and explain why they are having the problems with their eyes," he said.

Maxwell has been participating in New Horizons missions since 2005, and teams have been to Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ecuador, Granada, Panama and Bolivia.

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