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AL TAQADDUM, Iraq (July 25, 2007) ? Lt. Cmdr. Harlan Taliaferro inspects Cpl. Jorge L. Pinedo?s broken ankle. Taliaferro is the only orthopedic surgeon here and his services spare service members a flight to higher level medical facilities, which, in addition to keeping the patients away from their work sections for extended periods of time, would cost the military money. Taliaferro is a Groton, Conn., native.

Photo by Cpl. Andrew Kalwitz

TQ orthopedic staff saves more than just aches, pains

30 Jul 2007 | Cpl. Andrew Kalwitz

Of field military medicine’s many investments, orthopedic treatment may be one of the most practical. The Camp Taqaddum Surgical Detachment began providing orthopedic care in August 2006 and practitioners credit its introduction with saving both time and money.

During July alone, more than 65 patients took advantage of this service. Previously, those servicemembers would have required transportation to neighboring medical facilities to receive orthopedic treatment.

Transportation in these parts doesn’t come cheap. In addition to the cost of air assets, the time personnel spend away from their designated work sections is not reimbursable either.

The orthopedic clinic treats problems regarding the skeletal system, ligaments and muscles. Since the clinic was established, they have treated more than 900 individuals. Although the rigors of combat can easily create such problems, the clinic says that most of its patients’ injuries are non-combat related.

“I’m just glad that we can help patients and save taxpayers’ money,” said Lt. Cmdr. Robyn L. Cross, an orthopedic nurse with the Camp Taqaddum Surgical Detachment, 2nd Maintenance Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward) and a Chambersburg, Pa., native. “I think we provide a necessary service. A necessary, appreciated service.”

Since their primary duties of patient care keep them busy, three to four hours are set aside every Wednesday morning to ensure the staff is provided the opportunity to treat patients requiring orthopedic care. The surgical detachment has no official orthopedic section, so the staff provides this time on a completely voluntary basis.

“We can be more efficient one day a week. If I had to see all these patients throughout the week, it would be really tough,” said Lt. Cmdr. Harlan C. Taliaferro, an orthopedic surgeon for 2nd MLG (Fwd). “We see, on average, between 15 to 20 patients and I probably see about five to ten urgent cases throughout the week.”

Taliaferro attended four years of medical school and an additional five years of residency to become an orthopedic surgeon. He is the only one here who is officially certified to carry out orthopedic surgeries.

He said approximately 70 percent of all injuries here are orthopedic, making his services even more essential to “keeping people in the fight.” He also acknowledged one of the more drastic consequences of failure to treat these patients in Iraq.

“If we weren’t out here providing this service, we would have hundreds that would possibly need to be flown out of the country for treatment,” the Groton, Conn., native said.

Lt. David P. Day, a physician assistant with the detachment, explained that orthopedic treatment is provided to all servicemembers, contracted civilians and civilians employed by the federal government. He said this can really “take the load off” the higher level facilities to which patients are transported.

A Marine corporal, who was spared the flight elsewhere for care, said he is glad he was helped here, relieving him of a radical concern of his.

“I’m only two months away from home, so I’d rather just stick it out and finish what I started,” said Cpl. Jorge L. Pinedo, who utilized clinical services for his broken ankle.

Like Pinedo, the orthopedic staff is well into their deployment. Petty Officer 3rd Class William H. Smith, a corpsman with the detachment’s orthopedic staff said he has noticed an increase in the number of patients monthly as word spreads of the availability of this service.

“Wednesdays have been getting a lot busier,” said the Billings, Mont., native. “Now that more people know about it, more people are referring patients to it.”

Smith also said that after almost six months and more than 230 patients, the orthopedic staff works well together and has grown to be very close.

“We all came out here in February as part of the same group. Everybody is great to work with,” he said. “We all know each other’s weaknesses and strengths.”

And through the incorporation of on-site orthopedic care, it seems that the medical staff at Camp Taqaddum’s Surgical Detachment has turned a previous weakness into yet another strength of the operational forces here.

Headquarters Marine Corps