Nurse Expands Her Mission to the War Zone
Beginning in the summer of 2010, Maria Moreno-Chow, a nurse at Adventist Health's Kailua Medical Center in Hawaii, spent 195 days in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Her mission was to support a Multinational Medical Unit — a primary trauma receiving and referral center for combat casualties — in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and the International Security Assistance Force. “It was only through the grace of God that I was able to complete His mission of tending to the wounded in this combat zone,” says Moreno-Chow.
Afghanistan’s Kandahar Regional Military Hospital was to be the nurse’s mission field for the next seven months. It was 138°F when she arrived at Kandahar Airfield. Nearby sirens warned of a rocket attack.
Each day, Moreno-Chow rode through checkpoints in an armored vehicle to get to the hospital. She was assigned to the Urgent Care Department, caring for active duty NATO personnel, Afghan military and police, local civilian nationals and contract workers wounded in combat in the Kandahar region. “Our day was usually made up of providing immediate lifesaving care to the wounded,” explains Moreno-Chow. “Patients often came in with multi-trauma, single and double amputations, most often caused by a mounted or dismounted improvised explosion device.”
Each trauma team leader and surgeon worked aggressively to resuscitate every single wounded warrior who arrived. Comrades who died — called “angels” — where tenderly and respectfully cared for by the staff and given a proper ramp ceremony — a proud final farewell salute to the fallen soldier before his or her body is flown home for burial. “In the end, a special bond developed among those in our medical unit that allowed us to complete our mission and operate in a perplexing and hostile environment,” she says.
In addition to managing coalition forces, the department also treated locals, in particular, children. Some had horrific injuries from picking up ammunition devices or stepping on mines. Others were wounded in unexplained beatings. “Treating the Afghani women and children was challenging: we were not accustomed to the burka (a traditional full body covering),” says Moreno-Chow. “In this region, Afghani women are not allowed to work and do not seek health care because their culture forbids examination by a male physician. Causes of local health issues are many — poor sanitation and water purification, lack of immunization, poor prenatal and child medical care, lack of OB/GYN care, medical supply issues, and poor roads and transportation. Our goal was to mentor local providers to become more proficient in understanding medical needs of women and children.”
“At the end of my tour, my reward was that I was able to use my clinical expertise and contributions for the emergent lifesaving care of 1,200 patients,” says Moreno-Chow. She also participated in the medical training and mentoring of physicians at Kandahar Regional Military Hospital, which involved working directly with Afghani women and children.
“For me, it was only through personal daily prayer that I was able to function effectively and leave the combat zone a humble and grateful veteran,” Moreno-Chow says. “I prayed daily for strength, courage, guidance, and to conquer fear — trusting in His word.”