JUNE 16, 2015, ACAJUTLA, El Salvador (NNS) – Skin, the body’s largest and outermost organ, is vital to our health and happiness. With its three layers, it helps to regulate our body temperature and provides protection from radiation, microbes and nature’s elements.
For many, healthy skin is an outward sign of beauty, and a rash can be their worst nightmare. Even with proper care it can still be damaged.
Dermatology specialists embarked aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) are a unique asset to the humanitarian-civil assistance mission Continuing Promise 2015 (CP-15), working to ensure host nation’s residents receive the best healthcare for skin issues ranging from a simple heat rash to rare genetic skin disorders.
“Being in a specialized field is very unique in the sense that we can do a visual diagnosis, and sometimes change the lives of people just by giving the right diagnosis,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jane Scribner, lead dermatologist aboard Comfort. “This is a service that we are honored to provide not only to the host nation’s residents, but also to the service members aboard.”
The dermatology team is consistently called upon to provide consults for other military and host nation physicians, sharing their knowledge about skin conditions and specific treatments.
“The dermatology team has proven to be a valuable asset,” said Lt. Steven Weatherspoon, a pediatrician assigned to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Virginia. “Whenever I have cases dealing with skin issues, I will seek them out for advice or a second opinion. Getting the opportunity to expand my knowledge and learn from them is wonderful.”
In addition to working with military and host nation professionals, Scribner’s team is supported by partner nation dermatologists from the German armed forces who are performing rotations throughout the mission.
“Working with Lt. Cmdr. Scribner and the team has been a great experience for me,” said Maj. Aleksandr Sumenko, a German army dermatologist. “I think we have built great partnerships, and I have grown as a doctor. I have learned so much from the Comfort team and host nation providers about family care. I look forward to working with them again in the future.”
Their unique specialty allows dermatologists to treat everyone from rheumatology patients to cancer patients. With these diseases having various effects on the skin, Scribner and her team have to be on top of their game by consulting with each other and using reference materials to provide the best care possible.
During the CP-15 mission they have seen many patients with rashes, fungal infections and cysts and have been able to provide immediate treatment using medication or performing minor surgical procedures at the medical sites.
Scribner said the overall goal is to help improve the patient’s quality of life. If the team is not able to provide treatment, they make sure the patient is referred to host nation medical providers and have information about the condition and recommended treatments they can do themselves.
“There was a 4-year-old child who had a very rare skin disease called Xeroderma Pigmentosum,” Scribner said. “I have a 4-year-old child of my own, and this case was difficult for me.”
She explained that Xeroderma Pigmentosum is a genetic disorder where the body lacks the ability to repair damage caused by ultraviolet light. In some extreme cases, an individual with this disorder cannot be exposed to sunlight.
While not all cases can be treated, Scribner said she sees the positive side in at least providing a diagnosis, making sure the patient or the caregivers walk way with knowledge about the condition and helping them locate host nation resources for further assistance.
The dermatology team has treated patients in Belize, Guatemala, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Panama and is looking forward to providing assistance in the remaining CP-15 mission stops in Colombia, Dominica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras.
“I have grown so much as a provider and person,” said Scribner. “I am really looking forward to seeing what new opportunities the future countries will hold for us.”
Continuing Promise is a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored and U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet-conducted deployment to conduct civil-military operations including humanitarian-civil assistance, subject-matter expert exchanges, medical, dental, veterinary and engineering support and disaster response to partner nations and to show U.S. support and commitment to Central and South America and the Caribbean.