Field Surgical Team gives gift of hope
Army Capt. John Gasko administers anesthetics to a local girl during a Christmas Day surgery. The Field Surgical Team performed skin grafts on two small Afghan girls who were burned in a local village. (Courtesy Photo)
Field Surgical Team gives gift of hope

by 1st Lt Amber Balken
Zabul PRT public affairs

1/6/2009 - FORWARD OPERATING BASE LAGMAN, Afghanistan -- It has been said, it is better to give than to receive. Nothing could be more true this holiday season as the 2nd Forward Surgical Team gave two Afghan girls a second chance at life. 

The girls were burned in a cooking fire in their home in late December. Desperate for help and unable to get the care they needed in a remote area of Zabul Province, the family traveled for five days into the City of Qalat. 

Initially not offered care at the provincial hospital, the last resort was for the family to come to the gates of the Provincial Reconstruction Team compound in Qalat. Dr. (Capt.) Brent Barnstuble, knowing that there was nothing that could be done at that location contacted the FST located at Forward Operating Base Lagman. 

"These patients did not meet the medical rules of engagement," said Army CPT John Gasko, a certified registered nurse anesthetist. "After learning the extent of the burns, we made the decision to help." 

In usual circumstances if coalition forces did not cause an injury, they are not obligated to treat host nation civilians, but this was a special case and the girls were transported to FOB Lagman. 

The FST quickly began an extensive surgery on the first girl who had 32 percent of her body covered in third degree burns. They removed most of the damaged skin and stabilized the girl. 

The next morning, Christmas Day, the second girl was brought into surgery. With the help of Dr. Mahmoun Al Bashir, a surgeon from the Jordanian Medical Team in Qalat, the FST was able to graft skin from her thigh to her back. The surgery lasted three hours and the team was able to stabilize the girl. 

Surgeries like these are pretty uncommon for an FST to perform, commented Captain Gasko. 

"Our facility is not set up for children," he said. "Our mission is to provide first line medical care to Coalition Forces; we have very few pediatric supplies here." 

"How do you turn two burned children away on Christmas?" asked FST Officer in Charge MAJ Mike Bozzo. "You don't," he quickly answered. "You just take all safety measures you can and perform the mission." 

When the team took on the two girls as patients, they did it knowing that if there was a coalition emergency, the team would need to switch gears and treat those casualties. There was a risk when they accepted the girls, but the historically lower operations tempo in winter made it an acceptable risk. 

The FST also understood that they would have to take care of the girls until they were stable and able to tolerate transfer to a local national hospital. Both procedures went smoothly and both girls were transferred to the local hospital in Qalat just hours after their surgeries. The Jordanian medical team will oversee further treatment of the girls. 

This was a total force effort commented Major Bozzo. "With the cooperation of all the forces in the area we were able to give the girls world class care in a very challenging environment."