Team Dover doctor moves to South Dakota to assist Lakota Sioux

  • Published
  • By Capt. Marnee A.C. Losurdo
  • 512th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
The desire to serve and make a positive impact on humanity has been a common theme throughout the life of a 512th Airlift Wing flight surgeon.

This desire is what motivates Dr. Matthew J.G. Cazan, a lieutenant colonel in the 512th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, to travel 1,600 miles from South Dakota to Dover Air Force Base to fulfill his Reserve duties.

It's also what originally prompted him to move from the East Coast five years ago to South Dakota to provide health care to the approximately 21,000 Lakota Sioux who live on the 922,759-acre Rosebud Indian Reservation.

"I like the Native American people," said the flight surgeon who, along with two other flight surgeons, is responsible for the evaluation and flight status determination for 512th AW aviators as well as periodic health examinations for all wing personnel. "The Lakota Sioux have their own language and dialect and a lot of beautiful customs."

The "Sicangu Lakota Oyate" or "Burnt Thigh People" roamed and hunted the Great Plains for centuries, but since the 1880s they've resided on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in south central South Dakota, according to the Rosebud Sioux Tribe website.

"As a people, they suffer from social ills such as unemployment, poverty, alcoholism, drugs and domestic abuse," he said. "It's one of the most impoverished of all Indian reservations in the country, and they need a lot of assistance."

Nationwide, American Indians and Alaska Natives die at higher rates than other Americans from tuberculosis, alcoholism, motor vehicle crashes, diabetes, homicide and suicide, according to a Indian Health Services January 2006 fact sheet.

This is where Dr. Cazan said he hopes to make a difference. He is one of the senior doctors at the Rosebud Indian Health Service, a hospital funded by Indian Health Services, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Resources.

Rosebud Indian Health Service has a staff of seven permanent physicians and other health care providers, who provide ambulatory and inpatient care to more than 25,000 people a year, said Dr. Cazan. Staff members are also trained on domestic violence and implement screening and other prevention programs.

"We have an almost herculean job there; we often put in 100 plus hours a week," he said. "I've been tenacious and stuck with it in hopes that I can make some dent or a small foot print in improving their lives."

The Washington D.C. native began his medical career after graduating from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Richmond, Va., in 1982. The doctor participated in several hospital based group practices for more than 10 years in the capitol region, where he worked as an anesthesiologist and provided critical care and family practice medicine.

A desire to serve his country led him to join the Air Force Reserve in 1995, he said. In his youth, he wanted to be a pilot; and, while he never became a military aviator, he does have a private pilot's license and serves as a Liberty Wing flight surgeon, which gives him an opportunity to be part of the flying mission, said the doctor.

In fact, it was the Reserve that introduced the doctor to the Rosebud Reservation. As part of his annual tour in the mid-90s, Dr. Cazan accompanied several 512th AMDS members on a mission to the reservation. From 1995 to 2001, the squadron assisted the Indian Health Services by providing health care to the Lakota tribal members.

The trip impacted him so greatly that in addition to his Reserve trips with the squadron, he volunteered his own time each year to fly to the reservation and provide health care to the Sioux tribe, he said.

The events of 9-11, changed some of the focus for the medical squadron and the doctor began to volunteer for overseas missions in support of the Global War on Terrorism. He eventually left his practice in D.C. to take on more commitments with the military. In the summer of 2000, he said his priorities once again changed when he met his wife, Mary, a South Dakota native who worked in Dover for the Department of Education. Five years ago, they moved to South Dakota to be closer to her family, and he began working full-time at the Rosebud Indian Health Service.

Dr. Cazan's commitment to serve the Sioux nation as well as his country keeps him busy as ever, as he now travels to Delaware every two months for a week to fulfill his military obligations.

"Dover [AFB] is an inspirational and extraordinarily friendly place where both the aviation community and its infrastructure depend upon the medical unit for its wellness - that's where the medical team comes in," he said.

For this reason the doctor said making the 3,200-mile round trip is worth it.

"I'm making a difference and doing my part to preserve and maintain the American heritage that we all hold near and dear," he said.