Three generations saved by Bagram medics
455th Air Expeditionary Wing
Story by Master Sgt. Michael Voss
Medical technicians, Senior Airmen Mabel Aguirre and Staff Sgt. Dequijamin Roberson deployed to the 455th Expeditionary Medical Operation Squadron tend to Ajamal Hazat a patient at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Jan. 10. Ajamal and a large majority of his family were badly injured after the propane tank used to heat their home exploded. Ajamal's grandfather and aunt were treated here and have touched the hearts of the doctors and medics who interact with them each day. Photo by Master Sergeant Michael Voss.
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan--Air Force health professionals train continuously from medical school to retirement to provide life-saving treatments to patients. In most cases, they count on providing those treatments to American service members but Airmen assigned to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital here are finding themselves working medical miracles trying to save an Afghan family.
For nearly two weeks the hospital’s staff has worked around the clock to save the lives of Ghulam Hazrat, his two-year-old daughter Satara and one –year-old grandson Ajamal.
Around 6 p.m. Dec. 24, nearly two generations of Ghulam Hazrat’s family and friends were spending time together talking about the day’s events, but as the women worked to prepare the family’s dinner something went terribly wrong. The propane tank used to heat the home caught fire and exploded and within minutes the entire house was completely destroyed, killing two including Ghulam’s wife. In addition, six others including Ghulam and five children suffered life-threatening injuries.
Overwhelmed by the extent of the injuries, local Nijrab Hospital officials looked to the area’s most technologically-advanced medical facility for help. By nightfall, three of Bagram’s trauma beds were busy with surgeons and medics working tirelessly on Hazat, who experienced third-degree burns to his hands, his daughter, Satara, and his grandson, Ajamal both suffering from severe burns to face, legs and feet.
Today, thanks to the countless hours of caring for burns and more than six hours of surgeries for multiple skin grafts, they beginning the long road to recovery.
“I have seen burns before, but it’s always hard when it happens to babies. There’s really nothing you can do to get over the shock of seeing it, whether it is children caught in the cross-fire or accidents like this, it is the reality of where we are,” said 455th Expeditionary Medical Operations Squadron medic, Staff Sgt. Dequijamin Roberson. “We just focus on doing what we are trained to do.”
Although not the medical staff’s normal duty, when caring for young children, especially entire families, many within the Bagram hospital develop bonds with their patients, and Ajamal and Santara are no exception.
“This is the reason I joined,” said 455th Expeditionary Medical Operations Squadron medic and Dallas native, Senior Airman Mabel Aguirre. “I almost cried tears of joy when I got my tasking letter, I love waking up and coming here every day. Obviously it bothers you to see patients in pain. We try not to focus on that. Just like with the U.S. service member amputees we see here; if I focus on what caused them to be here it would kill me, but I focus on the progress we make for them. You see the differences in their behavior as they get better.”
As Satara clings to her father, now an outpatient here, and Ajamal passes the time coloring and being held by medical staff, the airmen’s thoughts turn to their last procedures and the sting of seeing them leave to go home.
“Satara is going to follow-up surgery tomorrow to check on her skin grafts, but now most of the life-saving procedures are behind us, now we only have cosmetic stuff to try to give them back their natural look or as close as we can,” explained Sergeant Roberson.
Thanks to the efforts of medical staff at the hospital, these three patients who probably would have died from their wounds, should be able to be discharged soon to return to their lives.
“I called my wife after finishing Ajamal’s first surgery to tell her about the experience,” said Lt. Col. Robert Sheridan, 455th Expeditionary Medical Operations Squadron burn surgeon. “What a privilege. You don’t get to spend as much time with patients as a surgeon, but I think everyone gets connected to the kids.”
Today, as the head nurse picks up the doctor’s orders for discharge and Hazrat calls for his, Satara and Ajamal’s ride home, the future is uncertain for the Afghan family. The sting of not seeing them everyday has begun to set in. But the medical staff relies on each other and the fact they did their jobs to get through it.
“Will it sting when they leave? Of course,” Aguirre said. “When I first got here, Satara had dressing all over her legs, now she can walk across the room."
“When they go home you never forget them, you are reminded all the time whether it’s a toy or a spot where they were sitting,” explained the medic who has spent enough time with Ajamal to be able to identify why he cries, whether for food, pain or to be held. “It’s how much you have impacted their lives; given them a chance makes all the sacrifice worth it.”