Canadian Forces dental officer Maj Sandeep
Dhesi discusses images of the devastating facial
wounds received by an Afghan man who was
successfully treated at the Role 3 Multinational
Medical Unit at KAF.
Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan - Major Sandeep Dhesi has just completed a six-month tour of duty at the Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit at Kandahar Airfield (KAF). The Army dental officer specializes in oral-maxillofacial surgery, a hybrid of medicine, dentistry and surgery.
“I worked as a general dental officer in the Canadian Forces for five years, but became drawn to oral-maxillofacial surgery because I wanted challenges,” he says. “It is a broad-based area of medicine where we can correct congenital deformities and provide both reconstructive and cosmetic surgery to children and adults alike.”
With some 13 years of military experience, Maj Dhesi cares for International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soldiers whose injuries affect their facial structure, especially the mouth. Small-arms fire, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and motor vehicle accidents are the three of the most common causes of injuries for which patients require his special brand of care.
“Approximately 80 percent of our patients are Afghans, with a fair percentage of that number being children,” says Maj Dhesi. “The other 20 percent of patients here at the Role 3 are coalition forces members.”
Maj Dhesi matter-of-factly explains that, in the last three months of his deployment, he treated patients whose problems would humble most Canadians. Patients sometimes remain at the field hospital for weeks of definitive care.
One 10-year-old Afghan was savagely wounded by an IED. “The boy had the most serious tongue laceration I have ever seen,” says Maj Dhesi, who collaborated with colleagues to reconstruct the boy’s face. Another patient was admitted to the Role 3 with head injuries that obliterated his sinus and nasal cavities and destroyed his entire palate – the roof of his mouth. He could not swallow, and any food he put in his mouth would enter the orbit of his eye.
Maj Dhesi worked to design, fabricate and install an obturator with colleague Maj Frederick Ferron, the Canadian officer commanding the dental section at the Role 3. The device serves as the man’s palate, allowing him to seal his throat so he can swallow.
“This was the most devastating facial trauma I had ever seen,” said Maj Dhesi, “but the man is doing well now.”
Maj Dhesi completed his specialized training at the University of Texas at Houston Medical Centre. Many victims of Hurricane Katrina were evacuated to Houston, where he was studying when the storm struck the Gulf Coast of the United States in 2007.
“This provided a broad base of trauma experience for me,” he says, “but the magnitude of the trauma [in Afghanistan] is much greater than anything I have seen before.”
Maj Dhesi expects to be posted to Ottawa when returns to Canada, where his primary focus will be treating soldiers injured in Afghanistan who still require care from an oral-maxillofacial surgeon.
“These soldiers may require implants, reconstructive surgery and bone grafts,” says Maj Dhesi. “I am looking forward to working with them as they recover from their war injuries and experiences.”
Maj Dhesi explained that oral-maxillofacial surgery developed—and continues to develop—as a specialty of dental medicine primarily to meet the needs of patients with war injuries.
“After nearly 10 years of war in Afghanistan, I know we are thinking of what our legacy will be in the years that follow our efforts here. The Afghans—especially the children—who received care from us are a major part of that legacy. I think that, going forward, they will pick up a book instead of weapon because of the way they were treated while in our care.”