Keesler dermatologist honored to serve in Peru

  • Published
  • By Maj. (Dr.) Wendi Wohltmann
  • 81st Diagnostics and Therapeutics Squadron
It was an honor to be a part of Team Keesler as the dermatologist for New Horizons Peru in July. Every time I am given an opportunity to do something different in the Air Force I jump at it, because this is what being a military physician is all about! During the 10 days of treatment we saw more than 7,700 patients at three different schools. Each location was about an hour away from where we were staying in Chincha.

As far as skin diseases, the most common things were pigment-related concerns, such as melasma (the mask of pregnancy), vitiligo, and solar lentigines (age or sun spots). I surgically excised a few large skin cancers, in patients who spent their lives working out in the fields without sunscreen. Luckily, we had brought sunscreen with us and were able to distribute it to many patients in need.

This was my third Air Force humanitarian mission, and what I have come to realize is that the best thing I can do for most of these patients is educate them on how to take care of their skin, whether it's using daily thick moisturizer for eczema after bathing, or high SPF sunscreen every morning with frequent reapplication to prevent skin cancer and other uv-related entities.

Language differences can be frustrating and a big barrier to providing care, so this time I brought handouts on the most common skin problems that had been translated into Spanish. They were written by Lt. Col. Stephanie Schaefer and are available on the Knowledge Exchange. These proved to be highly effective and helpful, as I didn't always have a translator available.

One especially rewarding case was a young girl with Down's Syndrome who was too scared to come into the exam room. She was crying and adamantly refused to be seen. Her mother asked me if I would try examining her outside on the stairs where she was waiting and I happily obliged. After a few minutes of simply sitting with her, and giving her a lollipop, she warmed up to me and I was able to perform an exam. It ended up being the single most rewarding experience of the trip. She had multiple skin issues which were easily treated by medications we provided her. She thanked me with a big hug, and neither of us could stop smiling.

This entire experience humbled me, because the people we saw were so gracious, kind, and patient, even after waiting in long lines for many hours to be seen. I hope that the impact of these missions is to help those in need by offering care they would not normally be able to receive. I would highly recommend participating in humanitarian missions whenever possible, as they are some of the most rewarding experiences available in the Air Force. I am so grateful to have been a part of New Horizons Peru and Team Keesler!