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News | Oct. 19, 2017

Lives Touched by SPS 17 Navy Doctor Reflect Childhood Influences

By U.S. Army Sgt. Crystal Madriz, Southern Partnership Station 17 Public Affairs

PUERTO BARRIOS, Guatemala (NNS) -- For one U.S. Navy emergency room doctor, his upbringing and youth experiences were huge factors in determining what course he would take in his future.

Even as a child, he was enamored with medicine and the way the doctors interacted with their patients.

"I was always fascinated with the way the physicians and nurses were able to kind of blend science and humanity," said Lt. Cmdr. Jonathan Auten, the associate emergency residency director at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, in Virginia.

Auten said he remembers frequently going to the hospital with his father, to visit people with illnesses. "My father was a preacher, and when people in our church were sick, we would always go into the hospital and visit them," said Auten.

"I think medicine is one of those unique specialties where you just can't be humanist, you just can't be a scientist," said Auten. "You kind of have to blend those two things together."

Auten is a member of the medical team deployed to Guatemala, to participate in engagements and knowledge exchanges with local medical professionals, as part of Southern Partnership Station 17 (SPS 17).

Through his 14 years of naval service, with board certifications in pediatric and emergency medicine, the thing Auten remains adamant about, is the emergency room. For him, there is no other place like it.

"I like the ability to be a part of people's lives," said Auten. "In those moments, they're open; they're coming to you in a moment of need."

When Auten is not directly practicing medicine and treating patients during SPS 17, he comes to life as a teacher.

"It's been a unique opportunity to grow as a teacher," said Auten. "I think it's been very humbling to watch these people, in both Honduras and Guatemala, really open up their lives and invite us in."

"They let us give some of our life experience and professional expertise and kind of blend that into their reality," said Auten.

One of the most influential things about the mission for Auten, was to see the environments in which the doctors and nurses have to work.

"I've learned things about how to practice in an austere environment," said Auten. "[Local doctors] were kind of talking about how they used what they had, or different ways to stop a hemorrhage with tourniquets, from the material they had."

For Auten, the patients that drive him to be better as a doctor and a father, are children. The moments, when he can heal children and make a difference in their lives, are the most cherished for him.

"Taking care of children, I feel like that difference that is made is spread out over their entire life," said Auten. "When you make a difference in a child's life, you really kind of help them reach that potential they're kind of meant to go to in their life."

Auten and his team have been in Guatemala for more than five weeks, traveling to hospitals in Puerto Barrios and building relationships with local doctors and nurses.

He compares practicing medicine to gardening, to show how one can make a profound impact in another's life.

"It's like planting a seed in the ground," said Auten. "You don't exactly know what's going to grow, but, if you nurture it, you can have some pretty amazing fruit."

Guatemala is the last country stop for SPS 17 medical engagements. Auten and rest of the team are scheduled to return home after their mission here is complete.

U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet supports U.S. Southern Command's joint and combined military operations by employing maritime forces in cooperative maritime security operations to maintain access, enhance interoperability, and build enduring partnerships in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central, and South American regions.

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