KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Despite the challenges COVID-19 has caused across the globe, U.S. military members from the Republic of Korea and Japan came together to ensure a valued team member received the life-saving surgery he required.
Service members from the Air Force and Army worked together ensuring this member was able to have his surgery as soon as possible. The service member’s name … Military Working Dog Quinto.
Back in April, following a routine dental exam and cleaning under anesthesia, MWD Quinto’s veterinarian, Army Capt. John Brandsma, 106th Medical Detachment Veterinary Service Support, was informed that Quinto started vomiting, was lethargic, and had a poor appetite in the days following the procedure.
“We performed a physical exam, baseline bloodwork, and urinalysis on Quinto and the results caused concerns for his urinary system and kidneys,” Brandsma said. “After addressing the dehydration we pursued further diagnostics including abdominal x-rays and ultrasound. While performing the ultrasound, a large mass was identified at the neck of the urinary bladder (where the bladder transitions into the urethra).”
According to Brandsma, the most common urinary bladder tumor in canines are transitional cell carcinomas, which are typically an aggressive cancer with high metastatic potential and a poor prognosis.
“The next step required sampling cells of the tumor,” he continued.
Coordination with Seoul National University Veterinary College allowed the veterinarians the ability to obtain these samples and quickly get results.
“We have recently implemented formal agreements with the University’s Veterinary College near U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys,” said Army Maj. Christopher Corrie, director of clinical operations for the 106th MED DET VSS. “They provided advanced care and imaging for us within 24 hours, which was outstanding. Quinto’s results returned as benign, or not cancerous, it was a huge relief.”
From there Corrie contacted Army Maj. Shane Andrews, Chief, Okinawa Branch Veterinary Services, Public Health Activity–Japan, Kadena Air Base, and began the process to move MWD Quinto to Kadena AB for the necessary surgical procedure.
The 8th Security Forces Squadron, Kunsan Air Base, ROK, to whom MWD Quinto is assigned, secured transportation of Quinto and his MWD trainer, Staff Sgt. Akeem Smith to Kadena AB.
“The Osan Air Base medical team and air terminal operations center helped with coordination of flight time as well as reviewing orders to ensure all details were in place for the mission,” Brandsma said. “Additionally, they helped ensure we had all the medical and flight information correct once we secured the air medevac.”
Once it was determined surgery to remove the bladder mass would benefit MWD Quinto and prevent further urinary obstruction, plans were made to have him and the handler aero-medical evacuated to the Okinawa Veterinary Activity on Kadena AB.
“A urinary obstruction is a life-threatening emergency and requires immediate attention,” Andrews said. “Our facility is considered the referral hospital for MWDs within the Pacific theater so when one has a condition that requires emergency care and/or advanced surgery, and the local VCO (Veterinary Corps officer) doesn’t have those capabilities, the military working dog will get sent to us.”
With MWD Quinto finally on Okinawa, veterinarians began preparing their patient for his surgical procedure.
“The surgery was performed by carefully dissecting out the mass from the bladder wall, being careful to preserve other vital structures,” Andrews explained. “It went very well and the mass was successfully removed. Afterward, a urinary catheter was placed and Quinto was monitored for several days by our staff here during his recovery.”
This type of mission, even during COVID-19, emphasizes the importance MWDs have on mission effectiveness along with the importance of the handlers and kennel teams who train the dogs.
“Meeting mission requirements during COVID-19 has been a challenge however, our highest priority is providing medical care of military working dogs,” Andrews stated. “The reason great lengths were taken to get him to Okinawa is because MWDs are considered Soldiers and are highly respected members of the Armed Forces. They are regarded as force protection multipliers and are an invaluable asset to our nation’s defense. They play a huge role in providing security, patrol, detection, and other missions vital to keep us safe.”
After his surgery, MWD Quinto required various daily medications to ensure a complete recovery.
“I requested assistance from the Kadena Air Base 18th Medical Group pharmacist to acquire an essential medication for Quinto that our facility did not have in stock,” said Army Capt. Rachel Reiter, Okinawa Veterinary Services MWD officer in charge, PHA-J. “The pharmacist was able to compound the medication ensuring Quinto received an appropriate dose for a canine.”
After a few weeks, Quinto recovered with help from the medical and working dog teams. It was finally time for him and his handler to head back home.
“We worked with Staff Sgt. Smith and Quinto from the moment they arrived and once the surgery was complete, we got to work getting everything ready for their departure,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Helma, 18th Security Forces Squadron, NCO in charge of the MWD section. “It was great to watch Quinto moving around and regaining his strength. As the military working dog section on Kadena we are the caretakers for any Air Force MWD team who come here for support. My team and I made sure to set up a safe restriction of movement location with all basic needs both human and canine would need, provided food and water for them, and ensured all transportation for appointments as well as their flight back to Korea was within all the COVID-19 guidelines for safety.”
According to Helma, international aeromedical evacuation flights are tricky to coordinate in the present time, however, service members from South Korea and Japan came together to ensure one of our own got the care he needed.
“The restrictions, burdens, and roadblocks COVID-19 has placed in the way of our mission to provide exceptional care for our two- and four-legged warfighters takes teamwork to overcome,” Corrie said. “This situation is a perfect example of the U.S. Army and Air Force as well as a South Korean National Veterinary University, working side-by-side to provide life-saving care for one of our most important total force multipliers: military working dogs.”