ISLA DE PASCUA, Chile -Thousands of residents lined the halls of the cramped hospital to receive medical treatment from members of the Texas Air National Guard and Chilean Airmen during the five-day XXI Operative Medico-Dental Rapa Nui, on Isla de Pascua, more commonly known as Easter Island.
“Our principle reason for being in Chile, and particularly Easter Island, was to validate and demonstrate in real time a seamless interoperability with our Chilean Air force medical counterparts,” said U.S. Air Force Col. George Ivanovski, commander of the Texas Air Guard’s 136th Medical Group. “We actually worked side-by-side with them seeing patients.”
The joint Ministry of Health and Chilean Air Force event is designed to deliver medical specialty care to patients who may not otherwise have access to eye care, minor surgery, ear nose and throat, dentistry, cardiology and pulmonary medicine.
“Easter Island is quite isolated,” said Ivanovski. “The island is about 2500 miles from the mainland and is probably one of the most remote places on Earth. It's 63 square miles of landmass with about 6,000 people living there.”
For Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Davis, an optometrist with the Texas Air Guard’s147th Medical Group, the mission meant working with six ophthalmologists from Chile to deliver eye exams and other eye care. .
“We were doing both routine eye care [such as providing glasses] and secondary care which would be medications, eye disease and also doing tertiary care which is some cataract surgery,” said Davis.
Easter Island does have its own medical facility, but at times it can be overwhelmed.
“Even though it’s a full service hospital most of the positions are one deep and these guys are working 24/7, 365,” said Ivanovski. “Beyond seeing the islanders, once the travel season starts and cruise ships start arriving, the small hospital tends to get overwhelmed with a lot of additional people that are sick.”
During the mission, medical officials saw twice the number of individuals who were expected.
“The original estimated number of patients was about 2700,” said Ivanovski. “They saw about 5700. So you’re looking at about a 50 percent increase and when you think about it, that’s pretty much the whole island. They all showed up.”
This year marked the 21st iteration for the Chilean Air Force and the sixth year for participation by the Texas Air Guard, whose involvement is through the State Partnership Program.
“Chile is our sister state and we have a lot of things in common, not only recently with our military exchanges, but historically, so its important for us to keep up that relationship and continue to build on it,” said Ivanovski.
For Ivanovski, the experience was one he won’t soon forget.
“This was not just a meet and greet event,” he said. “This was a full-up humanitarian operation, planned and executed much like you were rolling up into a disaster zone. It was truly awe inspiring to be a part of that.”