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Face of Defense: Air Guard Nurse Practitioner Aids Feathered Patient


Air Force Capt. Mike Yarbrough, a nurse practitioner in the Florida Air National Guard’s 125th Fighter Wing, had an unexpected patient this week at Saint Theresa’s Church here.

He was working at a temporary clinic set up at the church as part of a U.S. military health services training mission called Tropic Care Maui County 2018 when a man came in asking for a surgeon.

Yarbrough, who works in general and vascular surgery for the Department of Veterans Affairs in his civilian job, sprang to action, ready to assist in any way he could, even though the clinic is not set up to handle medical emergencies or surgeries.

The man said that there was an injury involving tangled fishing line. Someone at the clinic introduced the man to Yarbrough, who asked where the line was tangled. That’s when the man introduced the patient: a small bird. The man, who lives on a boat and takes care of birds, noticed one of his flock limping and found some fishing line tangled tightly around its leg.

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Emergency Intervention

After an examination of his feathered patient, Yarbrough said he noticed that the line had been tangled around the bird’s leg for a while. “[The bird] had fishing line wrapped around his leg and two or three of his little talons, and there were knots in there, so it had been there for a while,” he said.

Yarbrough quickly removed the fishing line, freeing the bird’s leg and talons. “The bird was better than most patients. He laid still the whole time while I cut the line off,” he said with a smile. Yarbrough told the visitor to see a bird specialist for any further care.

He said he was happy to help despite the fact that he is not a veterinarian.

“When you get this many people together and give them a site — you’re given the task of just creating a clinic out of thin air — you can’t help but be innovative,” said Navy Reserve Cmdr. Matthew Chesler, the assistant officer in charge of the Kihei location. “We are multitalented. There is a little something for everyone. It’s nice. If there are unique circumstances that occur along the course of us being here and if we can help with something, we do. It’s the things you never see coming that are sometimes the most rewarding.”

‘The Birdman’

Yarbrough may not be a veterinarian, but he is deeply interested in birds. At home in south Florida, he was nicknamed “The Birdman” by his wife. “I just think that birds are really cool, so I feed them and take care of them,” said Yarbrough. “My wife nicknamed me one morning. She said, ‘You’re the Birdman,’ because when I come out in the morning the birds will line up and you can hear them squawking so she’ll say, ‘Your birds want you,’ so I have to feed them.”

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Yarbrough started his military career as a medic in the Army and used his G.I. Bill to get through nursing school, setting himself on the path that would eventually lead to him joining the Air National Guard as a family nurse practitioner.

Tropic Care Maui County 2018 is a joint-service innovative readiness training mission led by the Air National Guard and supported by members of the Air Force, Army, Navy Reserve, and Marine Corps Reserve and community. Health clinics at Central Maui, Kihei, Lahaina, Hana, Molokai and Lanai ran from Aug. 11-19, providing medical, dental and vision services at no cost to area residents. Tropic Care Maui County 2018 also provides medical troops and support personnel with “hands-on” readiness training to prepare for future deployments while providing direct and lasting benefits to the people of Maui, Molokai and Lanai.