DVIDS – News – Army Pediatrician Brings Hope, Healing to Children Injured in Afghanistan
The day Army Captain (Dr.) Emily Parsons arrived in Landstuhl, Germany was also the day a devastating airport attack shook Kabul in Afghanistan: August 26, 2021. Planeloads of bombing victims began arriving immediately, and Parsons—on her very first deployment—launched in action to care for the injured and sick children of evacuees in the wake of the US military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The assistant professor of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU), Parsons, who graduated from USU medical school in 2018, had just completed her pediatrics degree at Madigan Army Medical Center when she was assigned to go to to go to Germany.
“It was a very short notice period. I think I had about 36 hours of lead time from when I was notified that this was a possibility to when I was actually on the plane. But it turned out to be quite a coincidence that I got there so quickly,” says Parsons. “The first weeks were dominated by those trauma patients who were quite seriously ill.”
According to Parsons, many of those patients were with them only briefly, stabilized and then admitted to host country facilities in Germany. Some were transferred back to Landstuhl and eventually evacuated to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and other military treatment facilities on the US East Coast.
“Once we stabilized most of those victims…then we had this influx of infectious diseases — diseases that can occur in an unvaccinated population and especially in a population in the area,” Parsons says.
She says they’ve seen a lot of diarrheal illnesses and there was an outbreak of measles. In the background of all those infectious cases was also a population that had varying degrees of health care needs that had not been met before.
“The kids were very scared. There was a lot of psychological trauma in addition to the physical trauma,” Parsons says.
While she admits the language barrier was difficult, Parsons says she and the other doctors worked closely with parents and interpreters to close that gap.
“We had a lot of phenomenal interpreters joining us,” says Parsons. “The demands on the interpreters were quite high and there were times when I knew they were working overtime. I know they spent a lot of their waking hours interpreting for us, which was very important.”
In the early days of her deployment, Parsons admitted she was nervous and that it was one of the most medically stressful situations she’s experienced to date.
“I also felt a sense of competence and although it was very stressful my training started and I knew the steps to take and it gave me a boost of confidence,” says Parsons. “The education I received at USU and the training in my residency was excellent and prepared me well for this experience.”
Parsons stresses the importance of pediatricians responding to humanitarian disasters.
“Pediatricians are trained with very different skills and it’s a different medicine,” Parsons says. “Also, people tend to react more emotionally when children are involved, and it’s helpful to have someone who is an expert in pediatrics to guide management decisions and medications because we approach things a little differently than the adult world.” .”
Thinking back to that first day and receiving the first planeload of bombing victims, Parsons says about half of them were children.
“They were some of the sickest kids I’ve ever seen,” Parsons says. “It was hard, they were pretty sick, but… I worked with a large group of people, surgeons, ICU doctors — we stabilized them and sent them to Walter Reed.”
Parsons adds that — after her five-week deployment ended and she returned to the United States — she found some of the children she worked with in Germany with Walter Reed and continued under treatment.
“Seeing the difference, the change, the improvement that these kids had had was so phenomenal,” Parsons says. “I saw children from the bombing, victims who just had a lot of injuries, so many broken limbs, abdominal injuries, burns – and months later, although still in hospital, but walking, laughing and joking.”
Parsons says there was a three-year-old boy she cared for in Landstuhl who had many orthopedic injuries and was in very bad shape.
“Now, months later, he said his first English sentence, ‘I like cookies,’ and he just walked around with the biggest grin,” Parsons says. “It was so great to see that as a team we brought this boy who would have died without our intervention and now he looks phenomenal.”
And for Parsons himself, it was both humbling and joyful to bring hope to families seeking a brighter future and help these children on the road to recovery. “I am impressed by the resilience of these families. At every step of the way, their healing has involved tremendous effort across multiple settings and specialties. I am proud to be part of the team.”
Created: 04.01.2022 Posted on: 04.01.2022 10:22 Story ID: 417627 Location: BETHESDA, MD, USA Web Views: 9 Downloads: 0
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