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Military veteran brings vast experiences as a 'doctor of the hands' to Kingsport

Cindy Harmon • Jul 25, 2012 at 2:34 AM

He’s been recognized as Air Forces Europe "Surgeon of the Year" and was granted the "MF" special experience identifier for his continued and sustaining excellence in academic medicine. He was awarded the Air Force Meritorious Service Medal for serving the American, NATO and Afghani wounded, as well as treating children injured in war, but none of those accomplishments means as much to Dr. Jeffrey Marchessault as a hand-written letter he received from Ryan, a soldier he treated in battle.

"My very first American casualty in Iraq was a lieutenant who got knocked down by an IED. By the time he got to me, his arm was starting to swell because of bleeding inside the forearm. We basically did the surgery emergently, mind you, a surgery I had never done before. I had to open him up, get to the bleeding and tie it off. We saved his hand," Dr. Jeffrey Marchessault recalled.

"The young man returned to Afghanistan and is nothing prouder than being commander in an infantry company. Ryan wrote, ‘if it hadn’t been for you and all the people who did their job I would have lost my hand, at the very least. I look around in this rehab department and see the amputees and realize how close I came to being one of them. I thank you for all you did.’"

It was the first letter the recuperating soldier had written since his surgery.

Marchessault chose the path of the military out of high school. After graduating summa cum laude with an undergraduate degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, he enlisted in the Air Force and attended Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Md., the only military medical school in the country. Later, he became Assistant Professor of Surgery there.

After medical school, he spent time as a flight surgeon in Air Force Special Operations, then with an F-15 squadron before getting back into orthopedics. He was offered a fellowship training in hand, upper extremity and microvascular surgery and completed it at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pa. He has published articles on both amputation and prostheses.

In his second deployment, he served as the sole hand surgeon at Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan during the 2010 troop surge. He worked 186 straight days, operating on all but two days; performing a year’s worth of surgeries in those six months.

"It fulfills a tremendous amount of patriotism, you feel like you are helping out. Every person you see on sick call that gets back to their job makes it easier for everyone else," he continued. " If that person has to get aerovaced out, it takes days, weeks or even months to get a replacement and everyone has to work even harder. Being a force multiplier is your true worth."

Most recently he served as staff orthopedic hand surgeon at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he specialized in acute and reconstructive surgery on the war wounded.

"It’s a very arduous process where gains were measured slowly, but many of the guys were young and they taught me early on, never underestimate them, they will surprise you. Things that aren’t supposed to work, work; things that aren’t supposed to be satisfactory, are okay," Marchessault said.

After a distinguished 25-year military career, Dr. Jeffrey Marchessault has joined forces with Associated Orthopaedics of Kingsport, 2202 John B. Dennis Highway, Suite 100, and is now accepting patients.

"I want the patients to know I am going to take some time to get to know them, what they need and what they want. I will offer them some safe and reasonable options both surgical and nonsurgical," he added, I’ll be the doctor of their hands, more so than just a hand surgeon."

To schedule a consultation, call AOK at 423-245-3161. Or for more information, go to www.aokortho.com.

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