GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. --
“I’m saving the day, one tooth at a time,” Senior Airman Alexis Lopez joked. Lopez, a dental assistant with the 319th Medical Group, was referring to his recent action regarding a fateful moment when he “saved” a patient’s tooth.
Prior to anesthetizing a tooth for drilling, about two months ago, Maj. Jon Federspiel, chief of dental services with the 319th MDG, incorrectly identified which tooth to drill. Luckily, Lopez spoke up, correcting the mistake and avoiding irreversible action on the wrong tooth.
Recalling the day, Lopez said it was like any other, and work was going as it usually did. The morning started with the office’s daily huddle and room set-up for the incoming patients.
One of the patients came in for a filling, which requires anesthesia and drilling into the tooth. Lopez was in the room to assist with the procedure along with Federspiel, and a new dental technician being trained by Lopez.
The procedure was going as planned until Federspiel mistakenly said “alright, ready to anesthetize tooth number 30.” Lopez said it should have been tooth number 31, so he quickly mentioned that to Federspiel, who corrected himself and successfully anesthetized the proper site.
Lopez had never worked with Federspiel before, who only arrived to Grand Forks AFB a few weeks prior.
“I was impressed,” Federspiel said. “He was blind to rank and position in order to say something.”
Federspiel added that the reason he was impressed, was because he’s most familiar with Airmen staying quiet in fear of being reprimanded by higher-ranking enlisted or commissioned Airmen. Lopez, however, didn’t think of himself first in the situation.
“It was a quick decision,” Lopez said. “To me, it was just me doing my job. In the healthcare setting it’s not about us, it’s about the patients.”
Both Lopez and Federspiel said they are glad they avoided undue harm to the patient. Federspiel mentioned that causing a patient harm is pretty much a worst-case scenario in their career field. Every morning, as part of their office huddle, doctors specifically review charts and documents in order to prioritize patient care and create the best possible outcomes by avoiding any accidents.
“He’s very humble,” Federspiel said about Lopez’s attitude towards the incident. “I hope he realizes how important this was.”