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Lejeune medical team offers care to rural community

29 May 2004 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

Sixteen year-old Siba Ahmed, an Iraqi girl, was gravely wounded.  No one knows who fired the weapon, but this they do know: Navy Lt. Charles F. Youngblood was the last man her family thought they would see offer assistance. 

The battalion surgeon stood on her doorstep, offering his help for the girl wounded in the head.  He wore no white lab coat, but a desert digital-patterned uniform.  A pistol hung at his side as easily as a stethoscope from his neck.

Youngblood, a team of hospital corpsmen and Marines from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, assigned to the 1st Marine Division in Iraq, visited the girl to offer medical assistance during a humanitarian aid mission here.

Youngblood knew there wasn't much he could do.  The gunshot damaged her brain, leaving her paralyzed on the right side of her body.  She was bedridden in a rural part of Iraq, where medical care is rarely available.

"The girl is fed through a tube and some of what she eats falls into her lungs," Youngblood said.  "The family said she had been to Baghdad to see a doctor, but it's very expensive and a long drive away."

The 34-year-old Omaha, Neb., Naval officer discovered Ahmed was suffering from pneumonia. 

"Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do for her condition, but I did give the family some antibiotics to treat her with."

It was the first among scores of patients the doctors and sailors treated.

Ahmed was the worst case.  With the help of an escort from Company E, the corpsmen traveled in their ambulance to the house of the local sheikh who had been complaining of pain in his back.  He already had X-rays taken of his back in Baghdad, which showed the tissue between his cervical disks degenerating.

Corpsmen started with this highly visible figure to give the townspeople a good feeling about them.

"We gave him some injections to help with the pain, some pills to take and told him to stop smoking," said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Barry C. Gibson, the battalion's triage officer from Orottoes, Va.  "The corpsmen are used to working with these athletic 19-year-olds.  To treat a variety of people, both old and young, we become better corpsmen and show the people we're here to help.

"The sheikh was really happy," added 34-year-old Gibson.  "You could see the smile stretch across his face after we helped him."

After taking care of the sheikh and examining other patients, the small convoy moved to the local school where they set up an impromptu clinic inside one of the classrooms.  Iraqis lined up around the corner to be seen by the medical staff.

"We see a wide array of skin diseases and small infections," Gibson said.  "A lot of their ailments are caused from living where they do - in the dust and the sun and without readily available medical care."

The medical staff offered antibiotics and medicines available at an average American drug store.  Still, they were treatments most of these townspeople would never normally see.

People suffering from ailments ranging from earaches to infected abscesses stepped into the impromptu clinic and received first-rate, sanitary medical care.  The medicines were bagged up and dispensed by the corpsmen free of charge.

Sometimes it was as simple as passing out painkillers for the elderly.

"The people here have lived with pain for so long in their lives.  I don't think anything can change that, but the medications we gave will help for a little while," Gibson said. 

"The Marines we treat know they can come to us 24-hours-a-day just like most people in America can go to medical facilities there, but these people just don't have that luxury," he added.  "For us to help them really makes us feel good about ourselves, like we really impacted their lives with our care."