MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Florida —
On November 20, 2011, Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Burgess, a psychological operations specialist, found himself deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
During a mission in which his unit was tasked with clearing improvised explosive devices from an area, Burgess accidentally stepped on one, causing it to detonate.
Due to the blast, Burgess suffered multiple injuries that resulted in the traumatic amputation of his right leg and degloving from the ankle to the groin area, which is when the skin is completely torn off from the underlying tissue. He also suffered from compound fractures in his hands, injuries to his lungs and multiple broken bones.
Unfortunately, Burgess' story is not a unique one. According to a Veterans Affairs report, around 30 percent of veterans have disabilities as a result of their military service, which often prevents them from living a conventionally normal life during and after their service.
To minimize the impact of traumatic injuries, the dermatology office from the 6th Medical Group at MacDill Air Force Base offers a variety of treatments for those who suffer from scarring as a result of blast injuries, burns, amputations and other surgeries.
“We provide full-service clinical, medical and surgical dermatology to our active duty, retired and dependent patients,” said Dr. Thomas Beachkofsky, 6th MDG chief of dermatology. “Although we focus on the warfighter, we see anybody that has had some type of scarring event that is painful, uncomfortable or symptomatic.”
As one of the smallest medical specialties, with around 20 clinics across the Air Force, dermatology is often overlooked in terms of treating the traumatic injuries service members are subjected to in combat zones.
“We are not traditionally involved in the care of most of these patients, but we’re trying to change that paradigm,” Beachkofsky said. “We want to get the word out to these wounded warriors that we can provide care for their needs and minimize the impact of their injuries on their quality of life.”
Beachkofsky and his team improve the quality of life and health of wounded warriors with their state-of-the-art scar clinic, which utilizes cutting edge laser technologies to improve scar tissue.
“Predominantly speaking, we use two or three lasers to improve the texture of scars, the thickness of scars and the flexibility of scars,” Beachkofsky explained. “By treating scars with these different modalities, we can greatly reduce symptoms like itching and burning, enhance range of motion and help heal chronic wounds.”
Along with improving the overall health of scarred skin, Beachkofsky and his team can also improve the aesthetics of the skin.
“Cosmetically speaking, we are able to improve the look of a lot of scars and traumatic injuries, though that is not the primary focus here,” Beachkofsky added. “It is more about giving the patients the ability to resume their normal daily activities with fewer symptoms.”
Burgess visited the scar clinic for treatment related to the injuries he suffered during his deployment.
“After getting a complete skin graft on the degloved area, I was referred to dermatology,” Burgess recalled. “I went in to get laser hair removal and Botox so that my prosthetic would fit better, and I wouldn’t sweat as much out of my stump.”
After more than 20 surgeries and countless doctor visits, Burgess often found it difficult to find someone who could help him with the healing of his scars until learning about the scar clinic.
“The VA would refer me to dermatologists who didn’t even know these procedures were available for my injuries,” Burgess said. “That makes what Dr. Beach and his team are doing so unique in that they are able to treat injuries from war that are not seen on the civilian side.”
Beachkofsky began his laser training in 2011 during his dermatology residency at the 59th Medical Wing in Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, where one of the first wounded-warrior-focused scar clinic was founded by his mentor, Col. Chad Hivnor. Upon his arrival to MacDill Air Force Base this past summer, he wasted no time in obtaining the necessary supplies and equipment to make these technologies available locally.
“When I arrived at MacDill, I noticed there was a population of wounded warriors that not only could benefit from the unique services I have been trained to provide, but also qualified for the care,” Beachkofsky said. “I discussed this with my leadership and asked if we could build a scar clinic. They were very supportive of the idea and now a year and a half later, we have a world-class laser center with amazing capabilities.”
Beachkofsky’s goal for the future is to continue raising awareness about the benefits and availability of these procedures and continue developing a patient base.
“The benefits of these treatments are enhanced through collaborative efforts from other specialties,” Beachkofsky said. “We need physical therapy, occupational therapy, prosthetics, plastic surgery, orthopedic surgery – we all have to work together to treat these patients.”
Any TRICARE eligible patients interested in being evaluated for possible treatment need to contact their primary care providers to submit a dermatology consultation request to the referral management center.
“It is truly an honor to be able to provide care for our nation’s heroes,” Beachkofsky said. “I am humbled by the sacrifices they have made for our country and I make it a point to remember their names and their stories. I am proud that our clinic can provide services to improve the quality of life and help patients live longer, healthier, happier lives.”