17-member Keesler team travels to Ecuador on MEDRETE

  • Published
  • By 092301
Seventeen Keesler medics recently returned from a 10-day medical readiness training exercise in Ecuador. 

Led by Lt. Col. (Dr.) Steve Nelson, 81st Medical Operations Squadron and deployed commander, and Maj. Paul Valdez, deployed deputy commander from the 81st Medical Support Squadron, the team consisted of Air Force specialists providing general medicine, pediatrics, dermatology, optometry, dental and pharmaceutical services. Over nine days - Sept. 16-26 - they treated more than 4,700 patients, visiting several sites in Ecuador including Santa Rosa, Catalo and Tondolib. 

Colonel Nelson said, "This was an outstanding opportunity for all members involved. The mission afforded us the opportunity to work in less than ideal conditions, providing real experience to practice medicine outside of a medical center, in a deployed setting. We were able to promote a long-term relationship between the United States and Ecuador, help populations in need of medical care, train residents and junior providers, test our abilities and knowledge and form friendships within the team and between the nations - all great reasons to practice medicine within the United States Air Force. I have never been prouder to wear the uniform than during this mission, and appreciate being allowed to lead this outstanding group from Keesler AFB.." 

Major Valdez added, "I was very proud of this team representing the 81st Medical Group. The numbers speak for themselves. These Air Force specialists worked out of buildings of opportunity at elevations of 10,000 - 12,000 feet. Some days it was 40 degrees. We used interpreters to facilitate treatment. Although conditions were austere, the team performed exceptionally. There is no doubt that our mission will have a lasting impact!" 

Two team members, Lt. Col. (Dr.) Steven Ritter and Maj. (Dr.) Robert Holmes, 81st MDOS, sent e-mails from Ecuador which provide some details about the team's work there. Following is a synopsis of daily activities, including comments by Major Holmes and Colonel Ritter: 

On their second day at Santa Rosa, Sept. 17, the team saw a total of 681 patients and 686 more the following day. At the end of the day on Sept. 18, they packed up to proceed to the next site, Cotalo, where they were scheduled to provide care from Sept. 19-21. The team then visit eda third site, Tondolique Illagus , Sept. 22-24, had a day off Sept. 25 and returned to Quito Sept. 26 before their flight back to the U.S. on Sept. 27. 

On Sept. 19, Colonel Ritter commented, "We are having a great experience having seen nearly 2,400 patients in four days, a very good showing. We were in Santa Rosa and today started in Cotalo. There have been nine admissions to local hospitals for pneumonia, pediatric traumatic amputated finger and two cancer patients. We have had great cooperation with the host-nation military. The country is incredibly beautiful and the people very friendly. There has been training with the Ecuadorian doctor and dentist. Colonel Novak mentioned he has learned new techniques with limited equipment and Colonel Gasque said he worked closely with the host-nation doctor with a pneumonia admission." 

Major Holmes said, "We're losing track of the days - all we know is today was the first day at a new site. This one is a school, so at least there were enough chairs to go around. (Imagine, we saw over 1,700 patients at the first site. Many of those encounters were conducted while standing.) There is a breathtaking volcano nearby and the folks are absolutely thrilled and thankful we're here. Several of us (including me) suffered a short gastroenteritis but all are improved or completely recovered by now. Say 'Hi' to the MDG gang, and wish us well!" 

Colonel Ritter noted on Sept. 21, "Lieutenant Villalobos is a remarkably talented PA from Family Practice and a key translator for the team." 

Major Holmes reported on Sept. 22, "We're going to our last site way up in the mountains (as opposed to just 'Up in the Mountains'). Yesterday we went to a village called La Paz, specifically constructed to house people displaced from volcanic activity. It's basically a group of cottages, not too different from base housing ... given to them by the government, I'm told. Great view, too! Today it will take over an hour just to get to the site via twisting switchbacks. We'll take two smaller vans, but it may be difficult even then as it poured rain all night long. Half of the road to the site is already blocked by previous landslides and the people will be lining the road to get in. Tricky! My best to the Keesler gang!" 

Later he added, "You didn't want to sit next to a window getting to the site today - elevation of 11,000 feet in a large bus doing hairpin switchbacks. It was the most picturesque, though, with the snow-capped Andes visible in the distance. More later - have to get shopping, though mostly for our translators who have really done a great job during this mission."