Australian surgical team saves US soldier

This article has photo gallery Published on Captain James Hook (author), LSIS Jake Badior (photographer)

A Task Group Taji medical team operates on a Coalition soldier while deployed in Iraq, from left: Royal Australian Air Force General Surgeon Squadron Leader Daron Cunningham, Australian Army Anaesthetist Colonel Michael Reade (rear), Royal Australian Navy Orthopaedic Surgeon Commander Ian Young (second right) and Royal Australian Navy Perioperative Nurse Lieutenant Meg Frugtniet.  (photo: LSIS Jake Badior)
A Task Group Taji medical team operates on a Coalition soldier while deployed in Iraq, from left: Royal Australian Air Force General Surgeon Squadron Leader Daron Cunningham, Australian Army Anaesthetist Colonel Michael Reade (rear), Royal Australian Navy Orthopaedic Surgeon Commander Ian Young (second right) and Royal Australian Navy Perioperative Nurse Lieutenant Meg Frugtniet.

An Australian tri-service medical team on active service in Iraq has successfully removed the appendix of an American soldier.

General Surgeon - Squadron Leader Daron Cunningham, Orthopaedic Surgeon - Commander Ian Young and Anaesthetist - Colonel Michael Reade performed the emergency appendectomy in an operating theatre in a tent at the joint Australian and New Zealand medical facility at the Taji Military Complex, 20 kilometres north of Baghdad.

Commander Young serves with the Maritime Operational Health Unit at HMAS Penguin in Sydney and works full-time as an orthopaedic surgeon at Melbourne’s Frankston Hospital under a clinical placement deed organised through Joint Health Command.

“I have deployed a number of times, but this is the first time I have been involved in mounting a major hospital in a war zone.

“Being deployed in an ANZAC hospital was special, as was working in a tri-service environment.”

Squadron Leader Cunningham, a Reservist with the Royal Australian Air Force who works as a General and Trauma Surgeon, said the emergency surgery went without any problems.

“The surgery would normally be performed laparoscopically [keyhole surgery] in Coalition countries, so it was a pleasure to be using traditional techniques,” Squadron Leader Cunningham said.

Australian Army officer, Col Reade, works full time as the Defence Professor of Military Medicine and Surgery at the University of Queensland, researching, teaching and writing policy around military trauma medicine.

“I used all the techniques that reduce the risk of anaesthesia in a patient who’s acutely unwell,” Colonel Reade said.

“Despite being in a tent, we had all the required drugs and equipment, and everything we’d have needed if anything had gone wrong.”

Colonel Reade told the patient before the operation that the standard of expertise and equipment in the operating theatre was better than one would expect in many Australian and US civilian hospitals.

“If I were having my appendix out and I could choose between having it done at one of many local hospitals in Australia or here in Iraq, I would prefer to have it done here,” he said.

Royal Australian Navy Reserve Nursing Officer, Lieutenant Meg Frugtniet, was the scrub nurse in the operating theatre.

“The operation went really smoothly,” said Lieutenant Frugtniet, who is on her first active service deployment having previously served on humanitarian missions to Banda Aceh, East Timor and Papua New Guinea.

“We worked together nicely as a team.

“In 19 years as a Reservist, it’s the first time I’ve worked in a tri-service effort … it’s definitely one for the books.”

The medical team is part of Task Group Taji – about 300 Australians and 100 New Zealanders – deployed to Iraq as part of a broader 18-nation Coalition to train the Iraqi Security Forces to defeat Daesh.

The patient was discharged a few days after the surgery and made a full recovery.