SILVER SPRING, Md. (NNS) -- Two researchers from the Naval Medical Research Center (NMRC) returned from deployment on the Military Sealift Command hospital ship, the USNS Comfort (T-AH-20).
Comfort departed Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, September 29, arrived in Puerto Rico on October 3 and returned to its home port Nov. 20.
Cmdr. Ramiro Gutierrez and Cmdr. Matthew Bradley were aboard the Comfort for almost two months providing disaster relief support after Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico.
"To see hundreds of people come together and essentially build a hospital ship as we were steaming into the unknown is something only we, the U.S. Navy, can do and it's a really powerful thing. On the island, there were people without electricity, food, water...and then we arrived to provide support, help and literally...comfort," said Gutierrez.
Gutierrez, an infectious disease clinician and Department Head of the Enteric Diseases Department under the Infectious Disease Directorate, and Bradley, a trauma surgeon and Department Head of the Regenerative Medicine Department under the Operational and Undersea Medicine Directorate, spoke about their experience during an NMRC All-Hands call, Nov. 27.
"Our mission, as I understood it, was basically to provide relief to the local hospitals and to provide for anyone who was in need. We saw a lot of antibiotic resistant infectious diseases from patients who had spent time in local critical care units before the hurricane made landfall. I spent a lot of time working with surgeons to identify infections and more...our main goal was to provide the best support and care to everyone who came or was brought to the ship...everyone," said Gutierrez.
"As a trauma surgeon this was never a deployment I expected to be on, but helping people and providing relief was a very humbling and rewarding experience," said Bradley.
"We are very proud of the work they did, they represent Navy Medicine research and development in an outstanding light and show the caliber of people we have in our research community. They never forget that they are sailors at heart with a dedication to service that cannot be extinguished," said Capt. Adam Armstrong, commanding officer, NMRC.
During the all hands call, Rear Adm. Paul Pearigen, commander, Navy Medicine West and Chief of the Navy Medicine Corps spoke of the work Gutierrez and Bradley did on the deployment. "The people you cared for, their families, they needed help and someone to care for them with compassion and understanding - and that's what you did. Thank you for heeding the call of this deployment; you have my appreciation for your dedication, care, and hard work."
According to a Military Sealift Command press release, "Sailors aboard Comfort treated 1,800 patients, performed 191 surgeries, provided 76-thousand liters of oxygen, and 10 tons of food and water. 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 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."
The recovery mission in Puerto Rico continues under the leadership of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. military reservists and National Guard.
The mission of the NMRC laboratory is to conduct health and medical research, development, testing, evaluation and surveillance to enhance deployment readiness of Department of Defense personnel worldwide. NMRC is a premier research organization with a vision of world-class, operationally relevant health and medical solutions.
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