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BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Members of the 81st Medical Group at Keesler are back home after a humanitarian mission to earthquake torn Chile.
They spent the past three weeks in Chile as part of an 82 person Air Force medical support team.
Forty-six men and women from Keesler took part in the humanitarian effort. They were part of a team that constructed a fully functional field hospital in just over three days.
The medical mission was in Angol, Chile, about 100 miles from the epicenter of the deadly earthquake.
"How's everybody doing this morning? Welcome back," said the briefing organizer, as members of the 81st medical group completed the required paperwork following their overseas mission.
The members of the 81st Medical Group just returned home after spending the past three weeks in Chile.
Their mission included constructing a tent-city hospital on a polo field to temporarily replace a Chilean medical center badly damaged in the quake.
"It was awesome. It was great. And we worked very hard," said Joel Shepherd. "The team worked very hard, but it was good work. We enjoyed getting our hands dirty. I enjoy setting up the E-MEDS. Putting those tents together was a lot of fun and putting all the equipment together."
Once constructed, the Air Force team helped provide medical care; everything from ER visits to various surgeries.
"There were at least 15 orthopedic surgeries, about the same number of general surgeries and gynecologic surgeries. And the ENT doc came down and also did some surgery," said Dr. Yekaterina Karpitskaya.
She is an orthopedic surgeon who worked side by side with Chilean doctors.
"It was a great experience. It was very, I'm honored to be able to do this and provide care to people in need and kind of see how they do things over there. And I actually learned things from the ortho surgeon on their side that I got to work with," said the doctor.
Members of the medical team say the graciousness and gratitude of the Chilean people was overwhelming.
"Every morning, the way they greet you is with a two handed hand shake and a kiss on the cheek. Thank you for coming. Even though the language barrier was there, you could still understand what they were trying to say to us. Thank you was around every corner and on every face. and they always talked about things from the heart," said Mary Peterson, who works as a nurse.
She said her first deployment was a memorable one.
"It is something very near and dear to my heart. I have done mission trips in the past. And to be able to do this with the Air Force and be able to represent the United States, it's amazing. Absolutely amazing. Makes me feel very proud," said Peterson.
The temporary hospital will be used for the next two to three years, while the Angol hospital is being rebuilt.
Since the field hospital opened on March 13, Chilean and Air Force medics treated more than 300 patients and performed about 40 surgeries.
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