ARLINGTON, Va., (Army News Service, Aug. 27, 2009) -- Walking with my surgeon from the exam room to his office to schedule my impending surgery, I told him it was my wife's concern about an unsightly mole on my back that sent me to a dermatologist.

The surgeon, Dr. Robert Stone Baxt, wheeled around and impassionedly stated, "Your wife saved your life."

Here's the skinny on skin - function, form, beauty, it does it all. Skin is the body's largest organ. This waterproof barrier breathes, sweats, cools, provides sensation, absorbs vitamins, and is a thing of beauty even though it is often vilified for not being deeper. But, I never knew that.

As children, my brother and I lived the lives of modern-day Tom Sawyers in the Missouri Ozarks. Typically, we wore a pair of jeans everyday - no shoes, no shirt. Little did we know that our skin's number one enemy - that jolly old Sun -- was planting the seeds of destruction that would erupt under my skin with deadly promise.

I had visited a dermatologist for an annual exam every year. After he retired, I was examined by the doctor, who took over his practice, and he did not share the concern that my wife continued to voice.

Finally, I got a referral from my internist for his dermatologist and made an unscheduled visit the next morning. I ambushed Dr. Charles Samorodin outside of his locked office.

Immediately, he said he did not like the looks of my odious mole, and he was going to take a biopsy. "You should thank your wife," he said as he excised a piece of my back, "for getting you here when she did."

Subsequently, Dr. Samorodin got the dermatopathologist's report and asked me to come and see him. He said I had advanced dysplasia, a pre-cancerous condition, and I would have to have surgery to ensure removal of all the tissue that could turn malignant. He recommended a surgeon and I agreed.

Dr. Samorodin is a true patriot. Following medical school, he volunteered for the Army and Vietnam. He served a tour in South Vietnam during 70-71 with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade, and later, in Long Binh. He was awarded the Bronze Star for a medical program he initiated that impressed the brass in Saigon.

After leaving active service, he stayed in the Army Reserve providing much-needed medical services to our Soldiers for a total of 20 years.

My surgeon also turned out to be a Vietnam veteran. He served as a U.S. Navy flight surgeon working helicopter medical evacuations.

I honor these two patriots for their military service and for the skills of diagnosis and surgery that will truly save my life, but also and especially a wife who looked at my beautiful skin and saw something ugly.

(Mark Allen is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and a U.S. Army civilian working at the National Guard Bureau.)

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16