Afghan National Army doctors and nurses tend to the wounds of an 8-year-old mortar attack victim at the Ghazni Regional Hospital Sept. 18. The child was transferred to a French hospital for further pediatric care. (Courtesy Photo)
PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Sept. 20, 2010) — An Election Day mortar incident that injured two children gave the Afghan National Security Forces a chance to show they had improved coordination among military and civilian hospitals.
The drama began at approximately 10 a.m., Sept. 18, when insurgents in Kharwar District, Ghazni province, began a firefight with coalition forces. During the crossfire, a mortar landed on a house, injuring two children. An 8-year old suffered a shrapnel wound to the head and his 12-year-old cousin received less serious shrapnel wounds to the lower extremities.
The father of the younger boy, who was also the uncle of the elder of the village, happened to be a doctor. After he cared for the boys and saw they needed more complex care than he could provide, he drove them to a nearby coalition forces installation, Combat Outpost Kharwar.
That afternoon, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the deputy commander of Combined Joint Task Force-101, visited COP Kharwar to attend security briefings related to the elections. While he was outside the wire at a nearby polling center, he learned of the incident through an interpreter.
A medical evacuation request was being placed to take the two injured children to a higher care center. Townsend decided it would be quicker to take them on his Black Hawk helicopter.
“It just so happened that we were going anyway, so we decided to take them with us,” Townsend said. “We’ve done this kind of thing before.”
At about 4:40 p.m., Townsend’s helicopter touched down on the helipad near the Afghan National Army-run Paktya Regional Medical Hospital at Forward Operating Base Thunder, Paktya province.
“I am very glad and appreciate that the Americans have taken care of my son,” said the injured boy’s father, whose name is withheld for security reasons. “I did not expect we would go the medical facility by helicopter.”
U.S. Air Force physician Maj. Robert Sarlay Jr., an advisor to the hospital with the Medical Embedded Training Team there, mentored the Afghan physicians who provided care to the younger child in the emergency room.
Although doctors were able to stabilize the child’s condition to a “stable, but guarded” level, the child needed to be examined by a neurologist. For this, a patient transfer was needed. Traditionally, hospital-to-hospital communication has been one of the biggest hurdles of the Afghans, said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. David V. Gill, the FOB Lightning METT commander. Fortunately this time, the system showed signs of progress.
Arrangements were made by the National Military Hospital in Kabul to transfer the child to nearby Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul. That hospital later determined that they were unable to provide the needed level of care to the child, and so he was sent instead to the French “Role 3” hospital at Kabul International Airport.
“We had good communications with our counterparts at the Military National Hospital in Kabul and the hospital commander [at Paktya Regional Medical Hospital] communicated well with his counterpart at the Military National Hospital,” said Gill, a Fairhope, Ala., resident.
Sarlay of Dayton, Ohio, added, “Getting the Afghan National Security Forces, the Afghan National Army in this case, to coordinate and cooperate with the civilian Ministry of Health system for these civilians to get appropriate definitive medical care [is incredible]. When I first got here, I would have laughed if you had told me we could do something like this.”
As of the evening of Sept. 19, the 12-year-old remains in the intensive care unit at the Paktya Regional Medical Hospital. The 8-year-old is at the French Role-3 Hospital in Kabul with his father. He remains in “stable, but guarded” condition.