Physician Assistant Saves Lives, Builds Bonds

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SPIN BOLDAK – A U.S. Army medical officer saved an Albanian soldier’s life last month thanks to a medical exchange program here.

During a routine procedure, 1st Lt. Jamie Mueller, a physician assistant with 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Special Troops Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, noticed a troubling growth on her patient’s back.

Mueller consulted with Army Maj. (Dr.) Michael Rossi here and with other physicians throughout Afghanistan and Germany, and they determined the soldier had cancer and needed immediate surgery.

Rossi credited Mueller’s professionalism and competence as the catalyst for getting the soldier the care he needed.

“She was able to gain their confidence,” he said. “As a result, they were able to find the cancer.”

That confidence Rossi added, was gained through Mueller’s hard work. When Mueller arrived here in February, a 12-foot wall separated the coalition forces. Though a physician assistant typically works directly with a supervising doctor, Mueller found herself as the only medical professional at the clinic. Shortly after she arrived, Mueller and her team were functioning at a high level and had begun to conduct medical exchanges with their NATO partners.

“I’m just an old medic that went to [medical] school,” Rossi said. She’s the one that makes things happen. Before she got here the Albanians were on one [base], and we were on another.”

Within weeks of beginning the medical exchanges, the U.S. and Albanian forces were regularly eating meals together in the American dining facility. Rossi said the crowd at meal time is getting bigger and bigger as the partnership grows.

Mueller said she enjoys working with people from other countries and learning about their cultures. Being deployed gives her that chance. “[On a previous deployment], I worked with locals in the Philippines. I love seeing where they come from and what they are like,” she said.

A Forest Lake, Minn., native, Mueller already had a master’s degree in exercise science when she began her Army career. In her first assignment at 1st Special Forces Group, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, she served as an intelligence analyst. After her initial service commitment, she decided she wanted to return to the medical field. “I joined the Army to do something different. I liked [intelligence], but wanted to do something with medicine,” she said.

She completed the Interservice Physician Assistant Program in October 2013 and deployed here four months later.

“Whether it’s treating us or the Albanians or an Afghan, … she does a great job down here,” said Army Lt. Col. Neil Doherty, Mueller’s battalion commander.

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