Face of Defense: Neurologist Brings Important Skills to Iraq
By Army Pfc. Michael Schuch
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq, Jul. 24, 2008 Medics and doctors play a key role in maintaining the health and safety of U.S. soldiers throughout Iraq. A doctor from Montgomery Village, Md., brings especially important skills to the combat theater.
Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Margaret Swanberg, of Montgomery Village, Md., checks the pupils of Army Spc. Michael Woywood, of San Antonio, for dilation during a military acute concussion evaluation demonstration at Forward Operating Base Hammer, Iraq, July 18, 2008. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Michael Schuch, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Lt. Col. (Dr.) Margaret Swanberg is the only Army neurologist deployed to Iraq.
Roadside-bomb explosions have been a leading cause of traumatic brain injuries that can vary from compression and bruising of the brain to damage to the nerves that send signals from the brain to the rest of the body.
“The fact that [the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team] ended up with a neurologist was really just a matter of luck,” Swanberg said, “but it has given me the chance to evaluate soldiers in person and give the other medics and doctors guidance and training.”
Swanberg serves as the officer in charge of the Sgt. Robertson Aid Station here. Her dedication to the job benefits soldiers throughout Iraq, as she trains medics throughout the country on military acute concussion evaluation, or MACE.
For six years before her deployment, Swanberg worked at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington, D.C., as a behavioral neurologist with patients who have Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The decision to deploy her came when Walter Reed leaders received a request for a doctor and reviewed their list of soldiers on deployable status. The professional filler system, which holds the names of all primary care military doctors, chose to send Swanberg because of her experience in a field that would help soldiers in Iraq.
The MACE technique allows medics and doctors to tell whether soldiers show signs of traumatic brain injuries by asking a series of questions. The questions test long-term and short-term memory, as well as basic motor functions.
“The symptoms [of traumatic brain injuries] include headaches, dizziness, ringing in the ears and the ‘thousand yard stare,’” Swanberg said. “These are all indicators that the soldier could be the victim of a traumatic brain injury, and that person should be screened.”
Being the only Army neurologist in the country is a huge responsibility, but Swanberg said she feels more than up to the task.
“I provide consultation [to unit medics and doctors] through e-mail and in person, and if need be, I am able to fly to Baghdad and even to the [forward operating bases] to evaluate and treat the soldiers,” Swanberg said. “Without having a neurologist in country, the soldiers would have to be sent back to our medical facilities in Kuwait or even Germany for treatment. That can take a month or longer to get the soldier back in his unit.”
(Army Pfc. Michael Schuch serves with the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)