By Lt. Col. Christopher KlemDecember 21, 2007
BOGRA, Bangladesh (Army News Service, Dec. 21, 2007) -- A team of seven medical personnel from Tripler Army Medical Center recently teamed with army physicians from Bangladesh to treat impoverished civilians at a Bangladeshi Army hospital.
The "Sight, Sound, and Smile" mission name is derived from the three types of disease addressed by the surgical team: cataracts, chronic ear disease and cleft lip and palate.
The deploying team consisted of two ear, nose, and throat staff surgeons, one ENT chief resident, one ophthalmologist, one noncommissioned officer-in-charge, and two surgical technicians.
Forty-four patients had life-changing surgery during the four-day mission at Combined Military Hospital Bogra.
"It was really incredible to see how much of a difference we made," said Maj. Ben Cable, an ENT surgeon who performed cleft lip and palate surgery on 12 patients, and was the mission's team leader.
"Bangladeshi children born with a cleft lip deformity are frequently ostracized and often unable to lead a normal life," Maj. Cable said. In developed countries, cleft lips are typically repaired when a child is 3 months old, while the average age of the cleft lip patient on the mission was five years.
Diseases such as cataracts and chronic ear disease are usually treated at an early stage in developed countries, but frequently progress to cause major problems when left untreated.
"We literally had people who came in blind from advanced cataract disease and were able to see after surgery," said Maj. Brett Nelson, the team's ophthalmologist.
The mission goals were to offer specialty surgical services to Bangladeshi patients that are typically unavailable, as well as to train the Bangladeshi doctors to perform these surgeries. U.S. and Bangladeshi Army physicians worked closely during the mission to accomplish this complex task.
"There were sometimes two U.S. and two Bangladeshi physicians around a patient in surgery at one time," said Sgt. Melissa Aschenbrenner, a surgical technician. "By the end of the mission, the Bangladeshi doctors were able to do a lot of the surgery on their own."
"The Bangladeshi Army really deserves a significant amount of credit for the arrangements to take care of the civilians during this mission," said Sgt. 1st Class Robert Nelson, mission NCOIC and surgical technician.
Bangladesh is the most densely populated country in the world and one of the poorest. Nearly 150 million people live in an area about the size of the state of Iowa. With average per capita income less than $200 per month, most of the population lives in poverty. Although a national health-care system exists, access to medical care is difficult for most of this rural population.
(Lt. Col. Christopher Klem is assigned to Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii.)