Military Sealift Command’s hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) returned to Naval Station Norfolk after providing life-saving medical care to the people of Puerto Rico.
Comfort departed Virginia Sept. 29, and had been in Puerto Rico for almost two months providing disaster relief support after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
“The ship’s namesake Comfort was absolutely appropriate for what the crew was able to do, because we weren’t just there to provide medical treatment, we were there for the comfort to the patient’s families,” said Capt. Kevin Robinson, the Comfort’s mission commander. “We made every effort to bring family member escorts aboard to provide comfort to the patients as well as the family.”
Comfort worked with the Puerto Rico Department of Health and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to treat patients since the first day it arrived in Puerto Rico Oct 3.
Since departing Norfolk to provide humanitarian relief, Sailors aboard Comfort have treated 1,899 patients, performed 191 surgeries, provided 76-thousand liters of oxygen and 10 tons of food and water.
“When we first got there, there was no electricity and everything was dark. We were a bright beacon that had power,” said Capt. Roger Gwinn, USNS Comfort’s master. “We met people that hadn’t showered in 8-9 days, hadn’t had a hot meal in the same amount of time, and that made the crew realize what we were dealing with.”
The ship conducted nearly 200 total surgeries to include 44 general surgical procedures such as hernia repair, gallbladder removal and appendix removal; 25 major orthopedic surgical cases; 17 amputations and 15 urologic procedures.
“What we saw were people with chronic conditions that had lost follow-up because either their clinics were gone or they hadn’t gotten their medications refilled,” said Capt. Kevin Buckley, USNS Comfort’s medical treatment facility commanding officer.
Several notable surgeries included a modified radical mastectomy for an advanced case of breast cancer, a complex multi-organ abdominal cancer resection, an urgent drainage and exploration of a complicated neck infection, and an emergent open repair of a ruptured aortic aneurysm which comprised the largest, most complex surgery ever performed on a hospital ship.
There were two children born onboard Comfort during the hurricane relief mission. The first was a baby girl, Sara Victoria Llull Rodriguiz, Oct. 14, and the second was a baby boy, Isaias Valerio-Fonseca Nov. 3.
The father of the boy was a U.S. Navy veteran.
The recovery mission in Puerto Rico continues under the long-term leadership of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and U.S. military reservists and National Guard.