Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) is the current US military conflict against terrorist elements in Afghanistan. Deepening US involvement in this conflict and increasing coalition casualties prompted the establishment of continuous neurosurgical assets at Craig Joint Theater Hospital (CJTH) at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, in September 2007. As part of the military's medical mission, children with battlefield-related injuries and, on a selective case-by-case basis, non–war-related pathological conditions are treated at CJTH.
A prospectively maintained record was created in which all rotating neurosurgeons at CJTH recorded their personal procedures. From this record, the authors were able to extract all cases involving patients 18 years of age or younger. Variables recorded included: age, sex, and category of patient (for example, local national, enemy combatant), date, indication and description of the neurosurgical procedure, mechanism of injury, and in-hospital morbidity and mortality data.
From September 2007 to October 2009, 296 neurosurgical procedures were performed at CJTH. Fifty-seven (19%) were performed in 43 pediatric patients (16 girls and 27 boys) with an average age of 7.5 years (range 11 days–18 years). Thirty-one of the 57 procedures (54%) were for battlefield-related trauma and 26 for humanitarian reasons (46%). The vast majority of cases were cranial (49/57, 86%) compared with spinal (7/54, 13%), with one peripheral nerve case. Craniotomies or craniectomies for penetrating brain injuries were the most common procedures. There were 5 complications (11.6%) and 4 in-hospital deaths (9.3%).
As in previous military conflicts, children are the unfortunate victims of the current Afghanistan campaign. Extremely limited pediatric neurosurgical service and care is rendered under challenging conditions and Air Force neurosurgeons provide valuable, life-saving pediatric treatment for both war-related injuries and humanitarian needs. As the conflict in Afghanistan continues, military neurosurgeons will continue to care for injured children to the best of their abilities.