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Surgical services return to Keesler Medical Center

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- As inpatient services returned to Keesler Medical Center Aug. 15, members of the 81st Surgical Operations Squadron were prepared to put their skills to work. 

A nine-person team performed the first surgery in the facility since Hurricane Katrina forced the Air Force's second largest medical center to shut down Aug. 29, 2005. 

Among the staff were two medics who had assisted with the last surgical procedure that fateful day. Certified registered nurse anesthetists Maj. Betsy Majma and Capt. Aaron Holloway participated in a caesarian- section performed at the height of the storm using flashlights as a light source. 

The Aug. 15 surgery was almost a year later and carried out in a much more routine manner in a brand new surgical setting. It was one of six cases scheduled for the day. 

The team repaired an umbilical hernia in the medical center's recently-opened labor, delivery, recovery and postpartum wing's operating room. The two LDRP operating rooms are being used while the facility's operating suite is under renovation, a project planned before Katrina struck. They are expected to open in late fall. 

The surgical team consisted of Maj. (Dr.) Dolan James, primary surgeon; Col. (Dr.) David Jenkins, who assisted; anesthesiologist Maj. (Dr.) Jules Gamache; Major Majma and Captain Holloway; Capts. Robert Colella and Cherie Copeland, operating room nurses; and Senior Airman Raheem Winndickerson and Airman 1st Class Cara Hammond, surgery technicians. 

"The staff was scheduled to be in the OR at 7:30 a.m.; we were in place at 7:28," Major Majma said. "With the new equipment and so many new faces, I thought we might be delayed, but everything went well and we beat our deadline." 

Colonel Jenkins noted the nearly two-hour procedure was performed as same-day urgery, allowing the patient to be discharged and return home later the same day. 

The first scheduled "overnighter," a hysterectomy, was scheduled the following week. "The surgery went well from my perspective," the colonel said. "There was great
cooperation among the staff. It was the same as before Katrina." 

"There was a colossal effort among many, many people to get the operating rooms operational," Major Majma added. 

As of Aug. 21, Keesler medics were performing an average of two surgeries daily. "As the staff increases, so will the caseloads," observed Major Majma. 

"Our working relationship is excellent -- the staff's morale is up because they're doing what they're trained to do," Colonel Jenkins said, referring to the duration between the halt to inpatient service last August to its Aug. 15 return. 

Major Majma echoed the feeling. "We're back home!" 

The Aug. 15 surgery was also a landmark for Major Majma. It was the last time she assisted as an Air Force CRNA; she retires Sept. 30 after 20 years of service. 

Colonel Jenkins also leaves Keesler in September for a new assignment at Eglin Air
Force Base, Fla.