USNS COMFORT, At Sea (NNS) -- Navy medical professionals aboard USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) received their first patients Jan. 20, delivered by an MH60S "Knighthawk" helicopter from USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in the middle of the night.
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. "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 1,000-bed hospital 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 Sailors spent much of their three-day transit from their home port of Baltimore, 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.
The disaster relief and humanitarian operation capabilities of the ship were expanded from the initial total of 600 medical personnel to man a 250-bed hospital to 1,000 hospital beds and more than 1,000 Sailors to meet the needs of the approximately three million Haitians affected by the earthquake.
In addition to Comfort, U.S. response assets participating in Operation Unified Response include Carl Vinson, USS Normandy (CG 60), USS Bunker Hill (CG 52), USS Higgins (DDG 76), USS Underwood (FFG 36), USNS Grasp (T-ARS 51), USNS Big Horn (T-AO-198) and the USS Bataan (LHD 5) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG). Bataan ARG consists of the embarked 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard Bataan, USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43), USS Carter Hall (LSD 50) and USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44).
For more news from USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), visit www.navy.mil/local/tah20/.