Twin healers

Published: April 20, 2006 | 4038th good news item since 2003

In the mountains around Kabul, Afghanistan, the Moss brothers — a symbiotic set of identical twin doctors tough to tell apart in peacetime — lost their identities.

There, among villagers, soldiers and the pressures of war, the two Army reservists were no longer Vince and Vance, they were doganagi. The word means “duality,” but in this case it translated to “same-face healers.”

“We’d wake up in the morning and there’d be a line of mothers, fathers, grandchildren waiting for us,” Vance Moss said. “We knew that we were there to save lives.”

Physicians often brag about the power their craft holds.

Medicine, its purveyors preach, affects every facet of our daily lives.

The Moss brothers, staff members at Kimball Medical Center in Lakewood, are no different, pledg-ing their specialties — Vince is a thoracic surgeon, Vance is in training as a renal transplant surgeon — will bring cutting-edge technology and nimble hands to the Shore.

The brothers will soon open Mid-Atlantic Multi-Specialty Surgical Group LLC in Jackson. A second office will follow in Howell.

But they quietly admit their recent tour of shared duty — a classified assignment that shuttled them across a war-scarred landscape nearly 7,000 miles from their tony Upper East Side condominium — was true healing.

The pair volunteered to trek to an Afghan National Army hospital in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital.

M16’s and tanks patrolled the grounds, but the MASH-like unit wasn’t entirely secure. It couldn’t be. A place too militarized would startle patients, and they wouldn’t have lined up for medical asylum.

The Moss brothers didn’t feel entirely safe, either.

They drew looks as some of the first black men the natives had ever seen. They wondered if they were jeopardizing their jobs at Kimball to be in a war zone.

Plus, the fractious relations between rebels and soldiers could have killed them in the time it takes a sniper’s bullet to fire.

Still, as the 34-year-olds performed bowel resections, urological repairs and amputations, they saw what medicine means to those who need it.

“We saved lives,” Vance said. “Every day, we saved lives.”

Eagle Scouts

Born to an Army soldier and an oceanographer, the Moss boys grew up poor in Upper Marlboro, Md., a suburb between Washington and the Chesapeake Bay.

They knew — fast — that they would be more than brothers.

They’d be twins in every sense of that word.

“We’re going to live out the definition,” Vince said. “It was teamwork.”

The pair rose through life together. Their hobbies dovetailed. Their passions formed in tandem.

As they worked toward the Eagle Scout award they earned at 14 — the brothers get indignant when asked if they made Eagle, a glimpse into their self-imposed mantra to be the best — they both had to earn a first aid merit badge.

From there, the Hippocratic oath was merely a matter of time.

First, the boys had to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy Prep School at Fort Monmouth, Pennsylvania State University and Temple University’s medical school.

When Dad’s a soldier, discipline isn’t fear. It’s life.

So it was a natural domino effect when the boys signed up for the Civil Air Patrol as teenagers, the first step of their military careers.

“We fell in love with it right away,” Vince said, his brother nodding along beside him. “It’s do by example. It’s teach by example.”

College wasn’t exactly like that.

Penn State is a nationally ranked school for student partying, and although the men earned entry into the school’s Honor Society as freshmen, the campus didn’t offer a rigid sense of order.

Of course, the pair imposed it on themselves.

The brothers were disappointed when they got into seven medical schools in the winter of 1994.

“We applied to 15,” Vance said.

Even medical school — as difficult as that was — left the pair wanting more.

In their second year at Temple, the two enrolled in the Army Reserves. Both are now majors in the medical corps.

Uncle Sam wanted them

Fast forward to Sept. 17, 2005.

Vance came home from another day as a renal transplant fellow at a Long Island hospital.

A large yellow envelope was at the front door.

He was awash in military intuition, the same clairvoyance a war widow experiences when a Military Police car comes to the house.

“I immediately knew it was my orders,” Vance said. “I was excited. Ready to go.”

The brothers shipped out to Fort Bliss in Texas — military rules prevent them from saying much more — and the pair soon joined a volunteer mission to provide unique medical care in and around Kabul.

The menace of a war zone became palpable moments after the Moss brothers sprang from their plane.

They introduced themselves to their translator and saw a child with no legs.

They then introduced themselves to their work spaces.

Crumbling farces of what Shore residents expect from hospitals, the operating rooms were reminiscent of the early days of American medicine.

Lights were powered by temperamental generators, so they flickered on and off with no warning. Sponges swam together in dirty buckets, a jarring sight to surgeons used to compulsive sterility.

Some hospitals had no soap.

“Here, it’s taken for granted — antibiotics, drainage equipment,” Vance said. “There, as a surgeon, we have to use the basics.”

Birth defect corrected

They don’t remember his name. They can’t forget his face.

He was 14, with thick hair, neatly cropped around the ears. He looked like a regular boy, except his plastic legs were propped up on the stretcher next to him.

He needed surgery to correct hypospadias, a birth defect in which the opening of a boy’s urethra is not at the tip of the penis, but somewhere else along the shaft.

The colonel the brothers served under said nobody would operate on the boy.

“We were his last resort,” Vance said. “And when we evaluated this kid, the colonel cried.”

Then, they fixed the child.

They fixed a lot of other people, too.

In February, the pair returned to their condo, five blocks from Central Park. Life went back to its familiar routine, although house hunting in Ocean County and the worries of opening their first medical office didn’t seem as consuming as they previously had.

“It was depressing in the first few months,” Vance said. “You come back to the luxuries of New York City and everything slowed down, even for New York. It took a while for the adrenaline to wear off.”

The high-pressure emotion may be gone, but the memories are concrete — especially about that boy. And like the rest of their lives, the experience was shared.

“It was very spiritual,” Vance said. “I don’t have to go home and tell him how it feels to be eating kebabs, feeling the snow and the gravel beneath your feet. . . . We were there together, experiencing that. That’s an experience we’ll never forget, as long as we live.”

ing their specialties — Vince is a thoracic surgeon, Vance is in training as a renal transplant surgeon — will bring cutting-edge technology and nimble hands to the Shore.

The brothers will soon open Mid-Atlantic Multi-Specialty Surgical Group LLC in Jackson. A second office will follow in Howell.

But they quietly admit their recent tour of shared duty — a classified assignment that shuttled them across a war-scarred landscape nearly 7,000 miles from their tony Upper East Side condominium — was true healing.

The pair volunteered to trek to an Afghan National Army hospital in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital.

M16’s and tanks patrolled the grounds, but the MASH-like unit wasn’t entirely secure. It couldn’t be. A place too militarized would startle patients, and they wouldn’t have lined up for medical asylum.

The Moss brothers didn’t feel entirely safe, either.

They drew looks as some of the first black men the natives had ever seen. They wondered if they were jeopardizing their jobs at Kimball to be in a war zone.

Plus, the fractious relations between rebels and soldiers could have killed them in the time it takes a sniper’s bullet to fire.

Still, as the 34-year-olds performed bowel resections, urological repairs and amputations, they saw what medicine means to those who need it.

“We saved lives,” Vance said. “Every day, we saved lives.”

Published in Aid
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