Operation Air Force involves cadets in medical research

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Operations Air Force saw Cadet 2nd Class Sara Chapman get a heady dose of medical reality at Wilford Hall Medical Center's vascular surgery in Texas May 20 to June 20. 

The biology major with Cadet Squadron 35 assisted with surgeries and assessments on study animals. 

"I always wanted to learn how to use the ultrasound machine really well so I would know how to look at a baby in a pregnant woman," said the cadet from Annapolis, Md. 

She was surprised that surgeons work 12-hour days without sitting down. 

"I learned the hard work it takes to be a doctor," she said. "I got a lot of experience in the operating room participating in sterile procedures." 

The summer research study translates very well to extremity injuries currently seen in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

"Once the research is completed the research will help doctors to determine the optimal time for reperfusion in injured limbs," she said.

She was one of dozens of cadets who attended Operation Air Force trips this year.

Biology major Cadet 2nd Class Theodore Hart volunteered as a researcher with the University of Cincinnati Department of Surgery's Research Division from May 19 to June 20. 

"I contributed to a cutting-edge medical research project related to the Air Force's aeromedical evacuation timeline," said the CS-18 member from Plantation, Fla. "While the Air Force has developed its ability to rapidly transport injured troops from in theater to higher echelons of care using several aircraft platforms, an average three to seven day is timeline of the evacuations." 

He helped work with animal injury models of hemorrhagic shock injuries. 

"Because of the severity of many injuries soldiers are suffering in Southeast Asia, it is hypothesized that exposure to the rigors of flight may be causing soldiers a 'second hit' injury and actually worsening their chances of survival," he said. 

The project uses animal injury models and an altitude chamber to simulate aeromedical evacuation effects. 

"Looking at two animal injury models utilized by the project, traumatic brain injury and hemorrhagic shock, we tested hundreds of mice for indicators of the body's response to these injuries in various organ systems." Cadet Hart said. "We also assisted with the development of future protocols for this project, ultimately aimed at producing an ideal timeline for the transport and care of our injured troops."

He said he aspires to attend medical school, so daily contact with an entire department of medical doctors was invaluable for him to help solidify his career choices. 

"I also got quality exposure to basic scientific research with real applications for my future career as an Air Force doctor," said the cadet. "That holds value personally and with admissions committees." 

He was surprised to see the civilian contributions made to the Air Force in this project. 

"While I didn't have an active-duty experience like other cadets, I saw the importance of having a broad spectrum of ideas in medical research," Cadet Hart said. "The University of Cincinnati does a commendable job with fusing military and civilian personnel to train physicians and support Air Force programs." 

In a month, he produced an incredible volume of data in support of this expansive project. 

"While few readers will grasp what cytokine tests are looking for, all can appreciate that we're perfecting the way we save the lives of our combat-injured troops," he said. "This is happening in the surgery department of a major university, showing that the care of our troops is valued by the broad medical community" 

He returned to the Academy with a somber observation. 

"I learned that progress in medicine does not come without notable sacrifices in time and money." Cadet Hart said. "The results we see on graphs in journals are often from a minute-long test that took an entire week to prepare for."