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NEWS | Aug. 30, 2018

Defeating a migraine while deployed

By Spc. Adam Parent U.S. Army Central

When he arrived in the Middle East, U.S. Army Spc. Tariq Booker, an Army Reserve Soldier stationed at Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, was suffering from daily migraines which left him unable to perform his duties and barely able to get out of bed. However, thanks to a perfect mix of factors, Booker was able to undergo an operation at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, which immediately alleviated his headaches.

In the past, when a service member stationed in the Middle East suffered from debilitating migraines of this severity, they were typically transported to a medical facility in Germany or the United States to receive the proper level of care. Removing Soldiers from the area of operations is not an ideal situation because it takes away from the effectiveness of the Soldier's unit. There is always a potential concern that the Soldier will not be able to return to their unit depending on the seriousness of their condition.

Over time, the doctors of the U.S. Army and the Kuwaiti medical system have been able to work together to improve the capabilities of the 75th Combat Support Hospital stationed at Camp Arifjan. American doctors with a wide variety of specialties are rotated through the 75th CSH on a regular basis and they meet with doctors in Kuwait multiple times a week to share knowledge and create joint care plans for patients if needed.

“We have a great relationship with our host nation partners,” said Lt. Col. Owen Johnson, a surgeon with the 75th Combat Support Hospital. “We have an office in the Combat Support Hospital that coordinates referrals to all sorts of experts at some of the hospitals in Kuwait.”

Johnson is an active-duty doctor who is well-versed in general surgery with a specialization in plastic and reconstructive surgery and additional sub-specialty training in craniomaxillofacial surgery. Craniomaxillofacial surgery deals with treating issues of the head, face, and neck region, said Johnson.

When Booker first visited the 75th CSH the medical team there evaluated his condition and brainstormed what the best care solution would be from the available possibilities offered by the U.S. Army doctors and their Kuwaiti partners.

They found that Booker's migraines began after he was involved in a vehicle rollover during a training exercise in the months leading up to his deployment. He sustained injuries to his head and soon developed a painful growth on his forehead that did not reduce in size over time. Booker struggled with the migraines for a few months before coming to Kuwait, where the migraines increased in frequency and intensity to the point of making him unable to work.

“When I got here I guess working in the heat all the time caused these serious migraines, and I could feel the cyst throbbing,” said Booker.

After the medical team reviewed Booker's condition, it was believed that his migraines and the growing mass on his forehead were caused by a nerve issue called a neuroma, which was created when one of his nerves was damaged in the vehicle rollover. It was decided that Johnson would take the lead on a surgery to remove the neuroma due to his unique experience with craniomaxillofacial surgery.

Doctors with a specialty in plastic surgery are not common in the military and are rarely available in deployed environments, so his expertise was crucial in accomplishing the surgery with the resources available in the 75th CSH in Camp Arifjan.

Johnson thought it would be most prudent to create a single incision above Booker's eyelid to reach the neuroma while also keeping the surgery as minimally invasive as possible. Another benefit to the location of the incision was the ability to easily hide the scar from the surgery in a less prominent place than on Booker's forehead.

After a few hours in the operating room, the procedure was finished and Booker was ready to heal. Booker's migraines immediately stopped and the mass on his forehead almost entirely disappeared in the following days of recovery.

“I'm healing pretty quick,” said Booker. “I guess they thought it was going to be a longer process, but I'm healing pretty quick. I feel like Wolverine!”

Booker's speedy recovery at the 75th CSH showcases the medical capabilities the U.S. Army and the Kuwaiti government are able to provide for Soldiers in the area of operations. Thanks to the combination of modern facilities, rotation of specialized Army doctors, and interoperability between the American and Kuwaiti governments, Soldiers can get back to the fight faster.