Comfort Cares for Man Buried Alive After 13 Days in Rubble

Story Number: NNS100131-02Release Date: 1/31/2010 10:47:00 PM
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By Communication Specialist 3rd Class Timothy Wilson, USNS Comfort Public Affairs

PORT-au-PRINCE, Haiti (NNS) -- A Haitian man survived with no food, sunlight or human contact for 13 days was rescued from the rubble and is being treated by medical staff aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), anchored off the coast of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

While walking down a street in his neighborhood, a house fell on top of Rico Duprevil Jan. 12 when a disastrous earthquake struck the country, trapping his right leg, crushing his femur and dislocating his pelvis. Only a gap in the cement enclosure and a pint-sized amount of water kept Duprevil alive.

"There was darkness all around, all of the time," Duprevil said. "I could not move inside. I could hear distant voices but they could not hear mine."

The massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated the Caribbean nation, killing thousands and injuring countless more. In the aftermath, Port-au-Prince is merely a widespread landscape of rubble with wandering people constantly searching for food, water, employment or missing loved ones among the debris and medical facilities.

"At this time in our lives, with God, anything is possible," Duprevil said. "If the Lord wanted me to die, He would have decided to do so. Only God has the solution for me." During a search of the area Jan. 25, townspeople found Duprevil alive and in high spirits, managing to dislodge him.

"I was never scared because God was on my side," Duprevil said. "I survived by thinking of Him and praying. I thought about my family."

Carried to a local hospital, Duprevil received basic triage for his wounds. On Jan. 26, the International Medical Surgery Response Team (IMSuRT), assumed responsibility but was only able to place him in traction, suspending his leg, hoping to realign the bone.

To receive the necessary medical care, medical evacuation was arranged the following morning with the Navy and Duprevil arrived at a landing zone to be screened for admission aboard Comfort.

"The facilities [in Port-au-Prince] could not handle this type of case so we moved him to people that could help," said Richard Stephens, a flight nurse for IMSuRT.

Capt. Richard Sharpe, on-scene medical commander from Comfort, performed a medical evaluation on Duprevil and deemed it necessary to provide immediate transport to Comfort for urgent medical care.

"Humans can go without nutrition for up to several weeks because the body goes into 'starvation mode,'" Sharpe said. "It conserves calories while vital organs start using other sources for energy."

After diagnosis, Sharpe requested an immediate airlift to Comfort. While waiting, Duprevil spent his time singing songs with his wife, Nadine, and watching two of his sons play with members of the IMSuRT staff. His other son and two daughters were not in Port-au-Prince at the time of the earthquake.

When the MH-60S Seahawk helicopter arrived, Duprevil was carried by stretcher with the help of Sailors from Comfort and members of the Army 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, who were providing ground support for the helicopter to transport to Comfort.

Minutes later, the helicopter arrived on Comfort's flight deck. The hospital ship is designed to quickly admit and evaluate inbound patients to begin immediate treatment. Using the medical information collected on land by Sharpe and his medical team, a full diagnosis followed and helped to move Duprevil into the Orthopedics ward for the medical care he needed. Less than one hour elapsed from Duprevil's departure from the medical screening facility at Port-au-Prince to admission into the proper care ward aboard Comfort.

"He is here on Comfort and will be receiving the surgery he needs," Sharpe said. "He needs to have his femur repaired with hardware and this can only be accomplished in our operating rooms. The surgical centers in Port-au-Prince are not sterile enough since the earthquake to allow internal fixation."

Comfort is equipped to support 1,000 patients on board, and is staffed by more than 1,100 military, civilian and non-governmental medical personnel. The hospital ship is deployed to Haiti as part of Operation Unified Response, a multinational humanitarian effort to ease the pain and suffering of the Haitian people during their critical time of need.

For more news from USNS Comfort, visit

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