59th MDW brings normalcy to wounded patients

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(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Kevin Iinuma)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas (AFNS) — Most people may have no idea what “maxillofacial” means, but to wounded warriors with traumatic injuries the word inspires hope.

Disfigured by circumstances while abroad or at home, maxillofacial prosthodontics gives wounded warriors and civilians a chance at living a normal life.

“The specialty improves quality of life by restoring or replacing oral and associated facial structures with artificial substitutes such as silicone prostheses, acrylic prostheses, metal frameworks, and a combination of all the materials,” said Col. (Dr.) Jose Villalobos, the 59th Dental Group oral maxillofacial prosthetics program director.

The 59th Medical Wing conducts a 12-month Maxillofacial Prosthetics Fellowship Program that provides a one-of-a-kind comprehensive experience, promoting interservice opportunities, according to Villalobos.

The dental group specializes not only in dental care, but also in oral and maxillofacial surgeries to help wounded warriors.

“We have great patients to work with because they are really appreciative, and they truly appreciate the service we provide,” said Maj. Stephen Cherrington, a 59th DG maxillofacial prosthodontist. “I think it goes back to giving them back a chance.”

Retired Army Master Sgt. Todd Nelson, a wounded warrior, has found the program very valuable.

“I don’t know where else wounded warriors would go to get the help they need if it wasn’t here,” Nelson said.

Maxillofacial prosthetics fellows use their expertise to decide the best way to improve a patient’s quality of life and bring back a sense of normalcy. Prosthetic noses, ears, jaws, and even eyes can be made with silicone or hard acrylic resin.

“The maxillofacial staff honestly treats you as an individual,” said Nelson, who serves as a spokesman for wounded warriors. “You are very important when you come here; it’s like everyone gets the red carpet treatment.”

Providing patients with prosthetics may be a small step in moving forward, but it is also something that gives them the motivation to get back on their feet.

“What has happened to you doesn’t define you; what defines you is how you react to it. I am actually just a walking billboard of that cliché,” Nelson said. “But, the truth is, it’s really how you react to it and not what happens.”