AzHOSA Speaker Has Seen the Worst of War
By Doug Carroll
The images of war made a profound impression Wednesday as Deborah Lehker spoke to the GCU chapter of AzHOSA (Health Occupations Students of America) in the North Gym.
Lehker, a lieutenant colonel select in the U.S. Air Force reserve, has served tours of duty in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan and is part of the Critical Care Air Transport Team (CCATT). As a nurse specializing in wound care, she has treated the worst casualties — and at 30,000 feet.
“These photos are very graphic and very real,” Lehker said, pausing occasionally to compose herself.
By its very nature, in-flight trauma care can take stress to a different level.
“We’re flying in dust storms and while being shot at,” she said. “When you go on five missions in four days, you sleep when you can.
“Do you put yourself and your life in danger? Absolutely. You have to trust in your faith. We lose soldiers over there, but they are not forgotten.”
Lehker, the mother of GCU health sciences student Ashley Sparks, returned from a seven-month deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in April. She is the chief nurse for the 752nd Medical Squadron based out of March Air Reserve Base in California.
She also is an intensive-care nurse at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, where she has worked for nearly 17 years. In 2007, she received the Nurses Health Care Hero Award from the Phoenix Business Journal and Military Nurse of the Year from the March of Dimes.
She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing, and the training for her military assignment has been extensive.
“You really need to have your skills down,” Lehker said of being part of CCATT. “There is advanced training like you wouldn’t believe. The physicians are good, but they’re looking at the patient’s major functions and they miss things sometimes.”
The federal government even publishes a book, “Emergency War Surgery,” to assist doctors and nurses working in such extreme conditions.
“Sometimes we can’t save their limbs, and that’s hard, because we really try,” Lehker said, choking up briefly.
It’s unconventional work, to be sure, and rewarding in an unconventional way.
“What gets most of us through it,” she said, “is the passion. It’s knowing you’ve made a difference.”
Reach Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].