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USU graduate helps her patients smile

A shot from the patient’s feet as Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Kerry Latham performs craniofacial surgery while aided by two other doctors
By Christopher Austin

It was 1999 and Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Kerry Latham was at a crossroads that had nothing to do with the turn of the century. She was a third-year medical student at Uniformed Services University of the HealthSciences (USU) and had completed her pediatric and family medicine rotations, but had not yet decided on what her field would be as a doctor.

Shot from beneath the patient’s head, three health care providers perform facial surgery
Surgeons take part in a humanitarian mission to the Dominican Republic led by Latham in 2011. (Image Credit: Kerry Latham)
She found her calling on a humanitarian mission trip to the Philippines, where she met a young man
who wanted to repair his cleft lip. He was in love with his best friend, Latham said. He wanted her to be his girlfriend, but felt he was held back by his facial difference.

“I asked the surgeon if I could observe this surgery, and she invited me to scrub in. The surgery took about an hour. He was the last one of the day so I didn’t get to talk to him after the surgery about how he felt, because he was groggy from an anesthesia,” she said. “The next morning, I bolted into the hospital to talk to him. I couldn’t wait to see his reaction to how wonderful he looked. When I got there, sitting with him was a teenage girl, holding his hand. And they were smiling at each other and happy… I had no idea you could change somebody’s life with an hour of your time.”

This fateful meeting made up Latham’s mind; she wanted to be a craniofacial plastic surgeon, helping patients with facial differences live full lives.

“I really enjoy taking care of kids with congenital facial differences, and adults who have issues that pertain to their facial differences,” she said. “I was fortunate enough to be assigned to Walter Reed and to direct the team here. I think people who are drawn to the team feel a passion for taking care of kids and adults with facial differences.”

Latham stands behind a young girl as a doctor from Walter Reed guides her  through a speech evaluation on a computer screen.
Latham oversees a speech evaluation being given to a craniofacial patient during a humanitarian mission to the Dominican Republic. (Image Credit: Kerry Latham)
Currently, Latham has moved to become the director of the craniofacial team at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Surgery (SUR) at USU, and the co-director of the craniofacial team at Naval Medical Center, Portsmouth, Virginia.

Whether it’s in a small hospital in the Philippines or one of the largest military hospitals in the country, Latham is happy knowing that she, and those she teaches, are bringing smiles to patients’ faces.