Thursday, August 14, 2008

Airman Helps Injured Warriors 'Face' World

Photos: Maxillofacial prosthetic technician Air Force Senior Airman Justin Jones creates new facial features using various techniques and tools to reconstruct facial features of wounded warriors. His techniques are used to aid patients in their physical and psychological recovery from injuries to the neck and face. Jones is assigned to 59th Dental Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Erin Peterson, 59th Medical Wing
The characteristics of a person's face are unmistakable. They are the uniqueness that makes people recognize family members, friends, co-workers. Now imagine suddenly being stripped of those defining characteristics.

Facial injuries are becoming more prevalent among wounded warriors. The features that protrude the most on a person's face are at a high risk for injury.

Air Force Senior Airman Justin Jones, a maxillofacial prosthetic technician with 59th Dental Squadron here, works to help servicemembers who have suffered disfiguring facial injuries.

After he enlisted in the Air Force in December 2002, Jones was a dental lab technician for three and a half years before switching to his current specialty through on-the-job training. His position was previously occupied by a civilian contractor, now retired.

Jones' qualifications come from studying art in high school and college, where he gained an understanding of color and light. He has experience with oil painting, watercolor and clay sculpting. He is now the only full-time maxillofacial prosthetic technician in the Air Force.

According to the Baylor College of Dentistry, maxillofacial prosthodontics is a subspecialty of dentistry that deals with the rehabilitation of patients with acquired and congenital defects of the head and neck region. Facial prosthetic devices are an essential part of restoring the physical and psychological well-being of patients with missing or disfigured facial structures.

Jones is brought in when a patient could benefit from a facial prosthetic. He often uses a pre-injury photo of the patient as a guide in restoring a patient's facial features. On one occasion, a patient's father was even brought in to shape an ear and match the pigment exactly.

His goal is to improve patients' quality of life, Jones said, allowing them to live without drawing attention to a specific aspect of their physical appearance. He works directly with the patients, perfecting the prosthetic until it suits each person precisely.

"I get to know my patients, and they let me know exactly what they want. I love the work that I do," Jones said.

Maxillofacial prosthetics staff members work mainly with patients from Brooke Army Medical Center and burn units in San Antonio. Air Force Col. (Dr.) Jose Villalobos, program director of maxillofacial prosthetics, praised Jones' work.

"With all the war casualties coming in right now, it is important that we use our capabilities to help those wounded warriors," he said. "Senior Airman Jones has an artistic background, and he uses his knowledge of sculpting, color and contours to restore missing or altered facial features. He has a passion for his craft, and he is filling big shoes right now."

Author Air Force Staff Sgt. Erin M. Peterson serves in the 59th Medical Wing Public Affairs Office.
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