Wright-Patterson medical teams treat Ecuadorian children at MEDRETE

  • Published
  • By Mike Frangipane
  • 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Airmen from the 88th Medical Group here participated in U.S. Southern Command's Medical Readiness Training Exercise (MEDRETE) physician teams to Ecuador. The MEDRETE teams used their expertise to bring needed medical care to children and residents during a fall 2008 deployment.

MEDRETE is designed to bring humanitarian assistance and free medical care to various host nations, while providing an unparalleled training opportunity for our medical professionals. These training exercises are based on the concept of helping others while practicing important military skills in partnership with the host nation.

The Wright-Patterson Medical Center volunteers were primarily pediatric medicine practitioners. These health providers were augmented by general medicine, optometry, pharmacy, dental technicians and support personnel.

One MEDRETE team of 16 people from six Air Force bases was headed up by Wright-Patterson's Dr. (Lt. Col.) James R. Rick, an 88th Medical Group pediatrician and pediatric gastroenterologist. He has been a physician at Wright-Patterson since 2005 and spent the first few years here in pediatric gastroenterology. For the last year he has also served as Pediatric Flight Commander at Wright-Patt.

Volunteering for the USSOUTHCOM MEDRETE to Ecuador, Dr. Rick led a team that centered its operations out of Cuenca. He and his colleague, Wright-Patterson Medical Center Pediatric Resident, Dr. (Capt.) Amit Bhatt, traveled daily to outsights at Zhina, Tomebamba, Sid Cay, and Paccha delivering medical care to patients in schools and other facilities.

"We had optometrist, dental, family medicine, and pediatric assets. Great effort went into making sure everyone had what they needed to perform the mission," Rick said. "It was at times a challenge but we had support from Air Force SOUTHCOM and from the host nation military to get the needed transportation, lodging, and additional medical assets. It all went very smoothly," he said.

Commenting on his experience, Dr. Rick said, "It was something I had always wanted to do but had not had the opportunity as yet in my Air Force career. I also thought it would be a great opportunity for the flight to get involved with humanitarian assistance, with medical readiness training, and with providing medical care on a large scale to an underserved population. It also turned out to be a great opportunity to work with the host nation military to forge some relationships with other governments. Working with the host nation military, was very rewarding.

"I think we forged some friendships that we will remember throughout our career," Rick said.

During their time in Ecuador, the Cuenca team served 4,756 patients. The total included 1,629 general medicine, 243 dental, 1,131 optometry, 1,601 pediatric, and 152 OB/GYN patients.

"Children came in groups of school classes to get physical exams," Rick said. "A lot of them with minor medical complaints but I think they really welcomed being seen by American physicians, perhaps to get another medical opinion, thinking that we had more to offer. We also saw many children with infectious problems and skin conditions not commonly seen in the United States."

A second Ecuador MEDRETE team included Dr. (Capt.) Mark C. Stahl, 88th Medical Group pediatrician, and Dr. (Capt.) Eldon Palmer, pediatric resident. The team centered its work in Riobamba and treated a total 4,465 patients comprised of 60 medical services, 1,439 general medicine, 416 dental, 960 optometry, and 1590 pediatric patients. The team also prescribed more than 4,000 prescriptions while in country.

"A lot of children from the high villages came down to see the American doctors," said Dr. Stahl, a graduate of Michigan State University Medical School. "It was interesting to see children that had never been seen before by a doctor of any kind. Parents would bring their children. Some daycare workers also brought 2 and 3 year olds. In one male child, I heard a pretty significant heart murmur. His parents said that he had passed out several times. To be able tell them that he needed to see a cardiologist and to get them moving in that direction was pretty significant," he said.

"I felt that we really had made a difference," he added.

U.S. Southern Command sponsors approximately 70 MEDRETEs per year. The participants called MEDRETE a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate U.S. military cooperation with partner nations and its desire to assist those nations in providing health care delivery to their population. The Wright-Patterson Medical Center staff were unanimous in their enthusiastic support toward that goal.