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In-the-Field Facial Surgery Helps Injured Troops in Iraq
Date:11/20/2007

No evacuation delays mean quicker, better surgeries, study finds

TUESDAY, Nov. 20 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. troops in Iraq who have suffered facial wounds are now undergoing successful reconstructive surgeries at army facilities in the field -- cutting their risk for long-term complications caused by evacuation-linked delays.

In the past, concern about potentially deadly infections has made field physicians hesitant to repair face wounds in Iraq, explained co-researcher Dr. Manuel L. Lopez, a head and neck surgeon who had been with the 322nd Expeditionary Medical Group at Balad Air Force Base, north of Baghdad.

That meant that wounded troops would have treatment delayed for the two or three or more days needed for evacuation to hospitals in Germany or the United States, he said.

Evacuation has its downside, however, because "any time you do [a surgery] faster, the greater the chance for optimum results," Lopez said.

What turned the tide was experience with Iraqis who were treated for the same kind of facial wounds at the base. Evacuation was not possible for them, so the surgeons just went ahead and operated.

Reporting in the November/December issue of Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery, the team found that risk of infection in such operations was much lower than had been previously thought.

Starting in May, 2005, American soldiers meeting strict guidelines began to have their facial fractures repaired in Iraq, in a procedure known as "open reduction and internal fixation." This techniques uses mesh implants or plates to mend broken bones.

About 60 percent of wounded American troops in Iraq suffer head and neck injuries, often severe. "The kind of trauma these kids experience with the high-velocity impact can be tremendous," Lopez said.

In the report, facial plastic surgeons operated on 207 people at the hospital, with 52 requiring open reduction and int
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