Twin Healers

When two brothers took their medical talents to war-torn Afghanistan,
even the president noticed.

The Moss brothers operate on the 12-year-old child of a drug lord outside Kabul.One of the latest developments in the extraordinary lives of Vince and Vance Moss is the stuff of movies. Identical twin brothers, the 37-year-old top surgeons based out of Crozer-Chester Medical Center took their passion for healing across the world to war-torn Afghanistan. In 2005 and 2006, they organized their own security force of Afghan National Army members and advisors, venturing deep into Al-Qaeda territory to help villagers in desperate need of treatment. They self-financed everything.

None of which should come as a surprise to anyone who knows the Moss twins. Washington, D.C.-bred graduates of Penn State and the Temple University School of Medicine, Vance, a urologist, and Vince, a thoracic surgeon, have always been overachievers. They were Eagle Scouts at 14, and both are majors in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.

By the spring of 2005, the brothers were set to begin their medical careers. Then came the call to serve in Operation Enduring Freedom. Their four-month mission: to care for soldiers stateside, Vance in Texas and Vince in South Carolina. And though they were in different parts of the country, they heard similar stories from the soldiers they treated—harrowing reports of civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq lacking the most basic medical care.

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What the Moss brothers heard haunted them, and they were determined to do something about it. So they proposed a formal military mission to provide medical care in those countries. But the risks were deemed too great, and their request was denied. “Basically, this was a mission like no other,” Vance says. “Just about everybody had packed up and left the people without any healthcare because the situation was so dangerous.”

Resting atop a mountain near the Pakistan borderSo the twins took things into their own hands, coordinating with the State Department, the Department of Defense and private entities to make the mission a reality. “We seem to thrive on things that people say can’t be done,” says Vance. “The challenge is what gets us going.”

When the doctors first arrived in Afghanistan, they had to earn the trust of the civilians. “For the first few weeks we were there, we ate with them, we lived with them, we intermingled with the community, we spoke to them through the help of interpreters,” Vance recalls. “It was crucial for them to understand that we weren’t there as occupiers; we were there to help them.”

Once they’d established that trust, word got out about the Moss brothers, with patients waiting in line for hours to be seen. Afghan children would cry out, “Doganagy, doganagy!”—meaning “same-faced healer.”

“That name resonated throughout the whole region up to the Pakistani border,” says Vince.

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For four months in 2005, the Moss twins traveled throughout central Afghanistan, spending 15-hour days caring for up to 400 patients. They provided a range of treatments, from appendectomies to colon resections. Ironically, it was the first time the brothers had operated together. “We definitely had a unique bond,” says Vince.
 

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Getting to know a young patientThey cared for people in huts, caves and mud shacks, most of the time without electricity or running water. Many of the operations were amputations on children. “The number of kids without limbs is unbelievable,” says Vance. “They’ve got over 10 million mines still there. Many children lost arms and legs after stepping on active landmines.”

The brothers couldn’t stay in any one village for more than two days for fear of being attacked by rebel forces. “Every day, it would be in our minds that our lives were in jeopardy,” says Vince. “But we stayed focused on what we were there to do. There was an overwhelming need for our services. When you think about all those we couldn’t help, it’s very emotional.”

The brothers returned to Afghanistan a year later. This time, they were committed to treating women and children. “In the Afghan culture, they don’t allow women to be treated by a doctor unless he’s a direct relative of that woman,” says Vince. “Women are not being treated there.”

One of the many poppy fields uncovered by the CIAThe Afghan men allowed the Moss brothers to care for the women, though they’re still not sure why. “Our translators were amazed,” says Vince. “They said they couldn’t believe it was permitted. The civilians understood that we were there to help them and to care for them—and they accepted our care.”

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The brothers have received numerous honors for their selfless acts, including AmeriHealth’s Physician of the Year, the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal (one of the U.S. Army’s highest humanitarian awards), Penn State’s Eberly College of Science Distinguished Alumni Award, the Trumpet Award (honoring African-American achievement), ABC World News Tonight’s Person(s) of the Week, the Global War on Terror Achievement Medal and others. They’ve even been invited to the White House as guests of President Bush. And while the Moss brothers are humbled by all the accolades, they maintain that they were merely doing their duty.

“We’re determined to make a difference in healthcare,” says Vince. “We want to be the doctors patients know will take the time to talk to them, treat them and help them understand their disease. We’re not only physicians, but also civil servants and teachers.”
 

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