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U.S., Afghan Doctors Team Up to Help Poor in Jalalabad

By Spc. Gregory J. Argentieri, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

JALALABAD AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Nov. 2, 2007 – A new partnership between U.S. and Afghan doctors here is helping the Afghan physicians do a better job of treating their own citizens.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Spc. Amy Long, an x-ray technician with Company C, Brigade Support Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, prepares to screen an Afghan man Oct. 8, 2007, at a forward operating base near the northeastern Afghan city of Jalalabad. At right, another local man sits on a litter waiting for an assessment at the 555th Forward Surgical Team clinic. Photos by Spc. Gregory J. Argentieri, USA
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Army Dr. (Maj.) Lee J. Trombetta, a 555th Forward Surgical Team general surgeon, met Dr. Akmal Pardis, director of the Jalalabad public health hospital, earlier this year, and the two came up with a partnership program in which local Afghan doctors would work side-by-side with the 555th FST.

“To me the most important thing, the purpose of the program is to treat the poorest of the poor,” said Trombetta, a San Antonio native.

The agreement is meant to foster a working partnership between local Afghan doctors and the 555th FST. In addition, the program serves as an academic environment to provide training and education for all Afghan and Army medics.

“In order for us to go home, we need competent people who can take over for us,” said Army Dr. (Maj.) J. Stephen Birchfield, a surgeon with 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team here. “So, in essence, we are providing medical training for our Afghanistan partners. So they know what we know, and hopefully they can take on our mission.”

“This partnership makes it easy to communicate with the (Jalalabad hospital),” Trombetta said. “There’s never a problem when you are on a first-name basis with six or eight Afghan surgeons.

“(The hospital) had a woman who was bitten by a snake, and they did not have any antivenin or any way to care for her,” Trombetta added. “Now all they have to do is call me on my cell phone, and depending on the circumstances, I say send them right over.”

Every Sunday, the 555th FST gets a list of consultations from the Afghan surgeons. “Everything funnels through Dr. Shacore and Dr. Shaquile, the directors of the hospital,” Trombetta said. “It’s truly a mission on behalf of the poor.”

Each week, a different Afghan surgeon and anesthesia provider from the Jalalabad hospital are assigned to the forward surgical team’s clinic. Local patients with the Afghan doctors come on the forward operating base, and the patients are screened Monday mornings. If they are good surgical candidates, the doctors perform surgeries on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

“We have the capacity to perform six operations a week here fairly easily,” Trombetta said. “The goal is to have the program increase through the winter as the trauma tempo predictably drops.”

Dr. Obaid Dost, an Afghan plastic surgeon, says he likes what he sees and has a good feeling about the partnership. “A son of one of the patients who was treated here said, ‘They are good kind people, even better than our doctors,’” Obaid said.

As doctors operate on local citizens, the war continues. While a little girl with an infected bone fracture was being operated on recently, a young Afghan man with a hand deformity from a childhood burn waited calmly. An Afghanistan border patrol guard evacuated to the medical facility interrupted the tempo with a seriously wounded leg from a gunshot. Then, later the same day, an American soldier was brought in with possible shoulder fractures.

“We are attempting to capture the hearts and minds of the local people, to show them that the Americans here want to help them,” said Army Lt. Col. Patricia A. Fortner, 555th FST commander. “Maybe they will think a little bit better of the American and coalition troops.”

(Army Spc. Gregory J. Argentieri is assigned to 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs.)

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Related Sites:
Combined Joint Task Force 82
NATO International Security Assistance Force

Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Maj. Saira Saini, 555th Forward Surgical Team plastic surgeon (left), readies a skin graft for a young Afghan man’s hand that was burned during an incident when the man was two years old. Afghan Dr. Obaid Dost (right), plastic surgeon, assists in the operation holding the patient’s newly-outstretched hand open for the first time in 20 years. The procedure took place Oct. 9, at a forward operating base near the northeastern Afghan city of Jalalabad. Photos by Spc. Gregory J. Argentieri, USA  
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