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Health providers receive ‘eye-opening’ experience in Afghanistan

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Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 4:30 am

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — As the only deployed physician assistant with 2nd “Black Jack” Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Capt. La Tasha Gray, treats and cares for thousands of troops, a challenge she will not have to face alone while in Afghanistan.

Air Force Maj. Marcus Neuffer, an ophthalmologist with 455th Expeditionary Medical Group/Task Force Medical East at Bagram Air Field, hosted an ophthalmology lecture at Craig Joint Theater Hospital on July 30. Attendees also took part in a “best eyes” contest.

About 30 military and civilian health care providers were in attendance for the lecture, which educated and introduced them to the most predominate eye issues seen in Afghanistan. Neuffer said his goal was to help the providers distinguish between the urgent and nonurgent eye cases, and which ones could be could be handled at a primary care level.

“I see about 100 referred cases a month, and a good percentage of which are cases of nonurgency,” Neuffer said. “This number can be reduced by proper identification of the illness.”

Air Force Capt. Jeff Marcotte, a family practitioner with the 455th, said the lecture was insightful, and helped him identify small differences in what would be considered an urgent or nonurgent case. He also gained new information on the anatomy of the eye.

Taking the new knowledge back with him and to his technicians will help him treat simple eye illnesses sooner, Marcotte said. He ensures his technicians are always up-to-date on new information, and most of them can already properly identify certain eye illnesses before consult with a provider.

Marcotte alone encounters about 30 patients a month with eye problems; most with dry or pink eye.

“Most cases seen in theater are simply dry eye. Your eye is red, irritated and itchy, and these cases are the ones that can be identified and taken care of at a primary care level,” Neuffer said.

He explained many red eye or iritis cases are contributed to environmental factors, such as poor air quality and high levels of dirt, sand and smoke. He said poor sanitation and hygiene — not washing your hands — are other factors, but ones that could lead to serious eye illnesses.

Serious illnesses are various forms of pink eye, when left untreated or not treated in time and endophthalmitis — an inflammatory condition of the eye usually caused by infection, which can lead to vision loss, Neuffer said.

Most effective treatments for eye illnesses are eye drops or “artificial tears,” steroids and topical applications, however, serious cases may include laser treatment or immediate surgery, he said.

In addition to the lecture and for some entertainment, Neuffer conducted a “best eyes” contest. Winners were Air Force Capt. Ryan Krampert, anesthesiologist, and Air Force Capt. Jeff Marcotte, family practitioner.

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