Service to America Medal Recipient

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Adding a Dimension to Veterans’ Care

Thousands of veterans are coping with traumatic injuries. Dave Carballeyra is helping our wounded soldiers recover faster and more fully.

Due to advances in medicine and technology, the fatality rate for service members wounded in combat has been dramatically reduced. Once a life has been saved, our government has an obligation to use all the tools at its disposal to restore the quality of life for these injured veterans. Dave Carballeyra, 25, is helping surgeons rebuild veterans’ bodies, so veterans can rebuild their lives.

Within his first year as a civilian employee of the Air Force, Carballeyra transformed the United States Air Force’s sole three-dimensional medical modeling laboratory, the Department of Defense’s first lab of this type, into a cutting-edge facility that provides innovative aids to surgeons and rehabilitative specialists treating wounded fighters.

Three-dimensional modeling is a tool increasingly used in the medical profession to prepare for complex surgeries and to develop surgical guides. It involves using computers to analyze patients’ injuries and create virtual models that are used to shape and fit prostheses and provide guides for surgeries. The result is surgical procedures that are dramatically safer, simpler and faster. For example, when preparing to attach an ear prosthesis, doctors would review scan images and use a needle to mark the bone with dye. Then, they drilled into the bone to place implants for attaching the prosthesis. If a hole was not drilled in exactly the right place to hold the implant correctly, they repeated the procedure. It was not uncommon for doctors to have to drill five or six holes before correctly anchoring two or three implants. With the technology Carballeyra has introduced at Lackland Air Force Base, they can accurately determine the optimal places to drill and create a surgical guide that is laid over the patient to ensure precise placement during the procedure. So far, doctors using this technology with Carballeyra’s assistance have drilled in the right place 100 percent of the time.

Technology introduced by Carballeyra also enables virtual sculpting of tissues lost in battle by soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with burns over 80 percent of their bodies. These injuries require a longer and more complex rehabilitation process than other wounds. Severe cases often require the rebuilding of facial extremities with lifelike prostheses, which greatly help these patients reintegrate into society.

In addition to using 3-D imaging to design reconstructions, Carballeyra also creates detailed models on which surgeons can practice and perfect new techniques. This technology allows doctors to hone their precision and increase the success rate of each surgery by practicing on a digital model that reacts like an actual body. The practice scalpel is connected to a computer, and it can simulate the resistance of cutting through bone and muscle.

By allowing for less invasive procedures, Carballeyra’s efforts have cut surgical time for some procedures in half. Fewer X-rays are needed during surgery to ensure proper placement. Surgeons make fewer and smaller incisions. Patients spend less time under anesthesia. Most important, surgeries using these technologies and methods result in better outcomes for the patients.

With limited resources, 25-year-old Dave Carballeyra has introduced the latest practices into our military’s medical care system. In turn, our most severely wounded veterans can resume living full and productive lives.