Back to Top Skip to main content

U.S. doctors save Italian patient hours from death

U.S. Air Force Capt. Melanie Gates, left, Capt. Nick McKenzie, and Capt. Richard Thorsted, all who are Special Operations Command Forward Northwest Africa ground surgical team members, gather for a photo at Nigerien Air Base 101, Niamey. The three doctors recently finished medical school and are serving their first deployment. They are deployed from Travis Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo) U.S. Air Force Capt. Melanie Gates, left, Capt. Nick McKenzie, and Capt. Richard Thorsted, all who are Special Operations Command Forward Northwest Africa ground surgical team members, gather for a photo at Nigerien Air Base 101, Niamey. The three doctors recently finished medical school and are serving their first deployment. They are deployed from Travis Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Global Health Engagement | Partners

NIAMEY, Niger — What began as a normal day eventually became an 18-hour sequence of events never to be forgotten.

Doctors and staff of Special Operations Command Forward (SOCFWD) – North and West Africa’s Ground Surgical Team (GST), a tenant unit assigned to Nigerien Air Base 101, Niger, were notified that an Italian woman recently suffered life-threatening injuries that required their attention.

The Italian woman was originally receiving care at a local hospital in Niamey when the GST was contacted by Italian military officials because the local hospital didn’t have the resources needed to save the patient’s life.

When U.S. Air Force doctors from SOCFWD – North and West Africa’s GST initially reviewed the computed tomography, or CT scans, they immediately knew there was more serious damage than what was reported as only a liver bleed by the local hospital.

“Upon reviewing the CT scans, there was also evidence of free air in the abdomen, concerning for a small bowel injury,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Melanie Gates, GST emergency medical physician. “When the patient arrived, her skin was white and she was in serious pain with minimal responsiveness. Her vitals were much worse than previously reported.”

The patient had a fever, a very high heart rate and low oxygen levels.

“First thoughts upon seeing patient … she wasn’t doing well,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Richard Thorsted, GST anesthesiologist. “She arrived to us in critical condition with a high fever.”

Thorsted and other GST members agreed that emergency surgery would be needed. Immediately, the team directed the 768th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron medical team to set up a walking blood bank. Additionally, they coordinated with various units and agencies from the 768th EABS, and Italian, French and German military forces to set up airlift and transportation to a larger medical facility in Senegal.

The patient is currently in good condition and recovering from her injuries in Naples, Italy, according to the GST staff.

“I’m especially thankful for the total team effort to do what is right, and not to let bureaucratic issues delay critical care,” said Air Force Capt. Nick McKenzie, GST general surgeon. “This was somebody’s mother, or wife, or daughter.”

McKenzie, Thorsted, and Gates, all of whom recently graduated from medical school and finished their residency programs, credit their success to a rigorous military training program they attended prior to deploying to Africa.

They all had run through clinical scenarios and situations to be able to work in austere conditions.

“Our training kicked in. We all knew our roles and worked well together,” Gates said. “I believe our training was crucial for our development as a team and ability to handle situations like this.”

Gates also said trust was crucial in the team’s ability to work in a stressful situation.

“I know that our ICU nurse, Capt. Jessica Bertke can trouble shoot any of our equipment and is the glue that holds our team together,” Gates explained. “I know that our anesthesiologist, Capt. Richard Thorsted, is meticulous at his job and is already steps ahead when problems arise. I know that our surgeon, Capt Nicholas McKenzie, has operated in much more austere conditions and would trust him to operate on my own family.”

Gates also mentioned that their scrub tech, Air Force Senior Airman Joshua Rios, has worked closely with McKenzie and can predict what he will need.

“I know that Master Sergeant Lou Campbell is always behind the scenes advocating not only for the patient and dealing with medivac logistics, but advocating for our team,” Gates said.

McKenzie said the support from the SOCFWD-NWA and air operating base staff in supporting his team’s decisions was one of the most crucial elements to his team’s success. He also thanked the Italian military doctor Valantina Di Nitto, who translated information regarding the patient into French, German, English, and Italian for the multinational military units at Air Base 101.

“My takeaway is personally knowing that we did something to help another human being,” Thorsted said. “There is an inner peace knowing you’ve done your best and you made an impact in someone’s life.”

Disclaimer: Re-published content may have been edited for length and clarity. Read original post.     

You also may be interested in...

2018 #ColdReadiness Twitter chat recap: Preventing cold weather injuries for service members and their families

Fact Sheet
2/5/2018

To help protect U.S. armed forces, the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch (AFHSB) hosted a live #ColdReadiness Twitter chat on Wednesday, January 24th, 12-1:30 pm EST to discuss what service members and their families need to know about winter safety and preventing cold weather injuries as the temperatures drop. This fact sheet documents highlights from the Twitter chat.

Recommended Content:

Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Winter Safety | Preventive Health | Health Readiness

U.S. Military HIV Research Program

Fact Sheet
12/8/2017

The U.S. Military HIV Research Program (MHRP) is at the forefront of the battle against HIV to protect U.S. troops from infection and to reduce the global impact of the disease.

Recommended Content:

Global Health Engagement | HIV/AIDS Prevention and Treatment

Zika Virus

Fact Sheet
2/3/2016

Zika (zee-kah) virus is primarily spread from an infected person to an uninfected person through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. Although most infections do not cause symptoms, Zika virus infection may result in fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes.

Recommended Content:

Zika Virus | Health Readiness | Public Health

Program Areas CBRN Protection

Fact Sheet
5/4/2005

The Medical Countermeasures (MCM) Directorate assists in protecting U.S. forces that are globally engaged and at potentially increased risk to being exposed to naturally occurring substances or encountering manufactured chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) agents that adversaries may seek to use against them.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Biological Surveillance Tools | Environmental Exposures | Chemical and Biological Exposures
<< < 1 > >> 
Showing results 1 - 4 Page 1 of 1

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing; Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.