October 1, 2012 started out like any another day at the office for orthopedic surgeon Doug Peterson, D.O. The North Shore native was seeing patients at his practice in Salem when he received a phone call that would change the course of his life for much of the year to follow. A member of the Navy Reserves with 15 years of active duty under his belt, Dr. Peterson was being called up to lead a medical unit for the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force that was heading to Afghanistan. Having been deployed abroad several times prior—including a lengthy tour in Afghanistan three years ago—Dr. Peterson understood immediately what this call meant for his family.
"The military is my passion, but the sacrifice my wife and kids make when I'm gone is hard on us all," says Dr. Peterson, the father of three children. "Leaving my wife to play the role of both mom and dad is always difficult, but it is truly an honor to put on the uniform and serve my country in any way that I can."
Within several months, Dr. Peterson found himself stationed at a military base in Asadabad, located in a mountainous region of northeastern Afghanistan, two miles from the border of Pakistan. There he was in charge of a 17-person medical team comprised of general surgeons, anesthesiologists, critical care nurses and physicians and medics. All came from different military backgrounds, but all shared the common goal to save lives.
"Our mission was to provide medical support to military units that were operating in the region, trying to stabilize the border and prevent the Taliban from transporting weapons and drugs through the mountain passes of Pakistan," says Dr. Peterson.
Working in a small medical facility on the base, Dr. Peterson and his team were focused on stabilizing combat-injured and critically wounded soldiers—of which there was a steady flow—and transferring them to hospitals with more advanced clinical capabilities.
"It is a scary thing, being thrown into a situation where people are critically wounded and dying," says Dr. Peterson. "I kept my team centered by having them focus on one procedure at a time rather than looking at the larger impact. This approach helped them handle what was in front of them since many had never been part of anything like this before."
In addition to working with wounded soldiers, Dr. Peterson's team also cared for critically injured Afghans, tending to some of the more severe cases that were beyond the scope of the local health resources. The team also held an orthopedic clinic for the locals, caring for ankle and lower back injuries common to residents of the mountainous region.
"It is extremely rewarding to use my training and expertise to help people who have so little," explains Dr. Peterson. "Missions like this are why I fell in love with the military and being an orthopedic surgeon."
Born and raised in Beverly, Dr. Peterson knew he wanted to draw upon his experience playing high school sports and become an orthopedist with a focus in sports medicine. After medical school, he completed a fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital, which gave him the opportunity to take care of a wide variety of patients and conditions. Among those he treated were numerous Boston area athletes, including members of the Patriots, Red Sox and Bruins.
Having returned from his deployment in November 2013, Dr. Peterson is happy to be back on his home turf and seeing patients at North Shore Center for Orthopedic Surgery in Salem.
His wife, Stacy, is also glad to have him back home. "We are so proud of the work he did in Afghanistan, but we are definitely excited he's back. We are starting to get back into our normal routine and spending lots of time with our family and friends."