Medical mission takes Air Force crews to Panama
Saturday, July 26 2008 @ 02:44 PM EDT
Contributed by: Don Winner
About half the 15 medical personnel are from Maxwell and the rest are from seven other Air Force bases nationwide. The team includes two non-medical personnel from Maxwell. All volunteered for the mission.
Lt. Col. Joseph Lopez is a family practice doctor with the 42nd at Maxwell and also the mission commander in Panama.
This is his fourth Medical Readiness Training Exercise, or MEDRETE, and he said he still enjoys it. The career doctor served in the Army during Desert Storm, but left for the civilian sector. After a few years, he returned to the military, this time the Air Force.
Military medicine, he said, offered a chance to treat people in foreign countries on trips like the one to Panama.
"It's been a lot of fun for me," Lopez said by phone from Panama. "Gratifying as well as something that's been a lifelong dream of mine, to be able to help people in these impoverished countries and be able to do something for them."
It also helps train the medical personnel to work in environments other than Maxwell, he said. While the trips like the Panama MEDTRETE are humanitarian efforts, they offer vital training for medical personnel who might end up deployed.
Training is a two-way street on these missions, too.
The American physicians learn about diseases uncommon to the U.S. and are able to help the Panamanian doctors and people.
Public-health classes for the local people are a big part of the team's duties in Panama.
"Things that to us we take for granted," Lopez said. "For them it's something new that you have to wash your hands to prevent diseases. It's something a lot of them don't know about."
Sunglasses as eye protection are also a new concept to some in the impoverished areas of Panama, said Sr. Airman Dexter Raflores, an optometry technician.
Raflores has seen more than 200 patients a day in the optometry clinic the team set up in Panama.
He and his associates have identified more than 100 cases of glaucoma, and prescribed medicine to help. They've done vision screenings and have given out all the eyeglasses they came with.
"It's a great opportunity to help people and see a different way of life and it makes you appreciate what he have back in the U.S.," he said.
He said the best part is "watching them walk away happy because they can see."