Active-duty neurosurgical coverage has been provided at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan since 2007. Early operative logs were reflective of a large number of surgical procedures performed to treat battlefield injuries. However, with maturation of the war effort, the number of operations for battlefield injuries has decreased with time. Consequently, procedures performed for elective neurosurgical humanitarian care (NHC) increased in number and complexity prior to closure of the Korean Hospital in 2015, which resulted in effective termination of NHC at Bagram. Monthly neurosurgical caseloads for deployed personnel have dropped precipitously since this time, renewing a debate as to whether the benefits of providing elective NHC in Afghanistan outweigh the costs of such a strategy. To date, there is a paucity of information in the literature discussing the overall context of such a determination.
The author retrospectively reviewed his personal database of all patients who underwent neurosurgical procedures at Bagram during his deployment there from April 17 to October 29, 2014. Standardized clinical parameters had been recorded in the ABNS NeuroLog system. All cases of nonelective surgical care for battlefield injuries were identified and excluded. Records of all other procedures, which represented elective NHC delivered during this period, were accessed to extract salient clinical and radiological data.
During the 6-month deployment, 49 patients (29 male and 20 female, age range 18 months to 63 years) were treated by the author in elective NHC. Procedures were performed for spinal degenerative disease (n = 28), cranial tumors (n = 11), pediatric conditions (n = 6), Pott’s disease (n = 2), peripheral nerve impingement (n = 1), and adult hydrocephalus (n = 1). The duration of follow-up ranged from 3 to 23 weeks. Complications referable to surgery included asymptomatic, unilateral lumbar screw fracture detected 3 months postoperatively and treated with revision of hardware (n = 1); wound infection requiring cranial flap explantation and staged cranioplasty (n = 1); and unanticipated return to the operating room for resection of residual tumor in a patient with a solitary metastatic lesion involving the mesial temporal lobe/ambient cistern (n = 1). There were no instances of postoperative neurological decline.
Elective NHC can be safely and effectively implemented in the deployed setting. Benefits of a military strategy that supports humanitarian care include strengthening of the bond between the US/Afghan military communities and the local civilian population as well as maintenance of skills of the neurosurgical team during the sometimes-lengthy intervals between cases in which emergent neurosurgical care is provided for treatment of battlefield injuries.