Military Sealift Command Public Affairs
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January 20, 2010
Hospital ship USNS Comfort receives first patients,
arrives off the coast of Haiti
Navy medical professionals aboard the civil service mariner-crewed Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort received their first patients late at night Jan 19, delivered by an MH-60S "Knighthawk" helicopter from USS Carl Vinson. Just hours later - at 7:45 a.m., Jan. 20 - Comfort dropped anchor off the coast of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Comfort's medical staff sprung into action following a message over the hospital ship's general announcing system informing shipboard personnel that a flight carrying patients was imminent.
"The team did an outstanding job with the two patients who arrived tonight," said Cmdr. Timothy F. Donahue, director of surgical services. "This was just the way a good trauma resuscitation should be conducted."
The two patients, a six-year-old boy and a 20-year-old man injured in the earthquake that devastated Haiti Jan. 12, arrived aboard the ship shortly after 10 p.m. An initial examination confirmed that both of the patients suffered from serious injuries.
"The first two patients arrived and were taken straight to casualty receiving," said Capt. Richard Sharpe, a trauma surgeon aboard. "The first was a Haitian boy who suffered a blunt injury to his pelvis. He is stable and doing well.
"The second patient was a male who suffered some blunt injury to his head and arm. He won't need surgery for either injury, so that is good news. "However," said Sharpe, "we discovered spinal cord fluid leaking out of his ear, which is concerning. But based on his computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan, his brain looks normal and is functioning properly."
Following initial assessments, both patients were moved to the intensive care unit for further observation.
Prior to arriving on station just a few hours away from the Caribbean nation of Haiti, Comfort's shipboard personnel spent much of their three-day transit from Baltimore - where the ship is maintained pierside when not deployed - preparing for patients by conducting drills, reviewing procedures and conducting frequent exercises concentrating on the variety of afflictions they felt they were likely to encounter during their disaster relief efforts during Operation Unified Response.
"We have anticipated treating for extreme dehydration, infections from open wounds, orthopedic injuries and crush injuries," said Lt. Cmdr. Daniel D'Auora, division officer for the casualty receiving department aboard Comfort. "We have two cases of injuries at this moment, but we are also focused on the basic medical problems that may be exacerbated by the lack of medical care."
Doctors aboard the Vinson took this same level of care in providing initial treatment to the young boy, which helped extend the child's ability to fight for his life.
"A surgeon aboard Vinson performed the initial surgery on the young boy, who sustained blunt trauma to his pelvic region during the earthquake or subsequent aftershocks," said Sharpe. "That kind of trauma is unusual for such a young child, but upon his arrival to Comfort he was responsive and doing well."
Comfort plans to receive many more patients during their indefinite stay in the region in addition to landing medical teams and providing supplies, including water.
Ordinarily, Comfort is maintained in Baltimore in a reduced operating status with a caretaking crew of 18 civil service mariners who maintain the ship's operating systems and about 60 Navy medical personnel who maintain the shipboard medical facilities, equipment and supplies. When activated, Comfort is designed to be crewed, mission ready and able to sail in five days. Comfort left ahead of schedule in just 76.5 hours with a crew of 67 civil service mariners, 560 medical personnel and an approximately 110-person contingent of support personnel.
Military Sealift Command operates approximately 110 noncombatant, merchant mariner-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships, conduct specialized missions, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world and move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces and coalition partners.
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