NORFOLK (NNS) -- USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) navigated the Chesapeake Mar. 13 as high-ranking flag officers and family members at Naval Base Norfolk, Va. enthusiastically awaited the hospital ship's return from its mission in Haiti supporting Operation Unified Response.
Comfort left her homeport of Baltimore, Md. in record time after receiving orders to make best speed to Haiti to provide medical aid to victims of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Jan. 12. The ship's crew admitted their first patients three days after deploying and, following 49 days of operations off the coast of Port-au-Prince, had provided care to 794 Haitian nationals suffering from injuries ranging from crushed limbs to gangrenous wounds.
"What people did will affect medicine for a long time," said Capt. James Ware, commanding officer of the medical treatment facility aboard Comfort. "People's experiences and the lessons they learned will affect the way we treat earthquake related injuries in the future. I am very proud of the crew."
A large part of Comfort's medical efforts were devoted to surgeries. It took more than doctors, nurses and corpsmen to ensure that the 843 surgeries performed were successful, though. More than 1,400 Navy medical professionals and support personnel, ranging from culinary specialists to engineers, came together with civil mariners and nongovernmental volunteers to provide critical support to the multinational effort in Haiti.
The USAID-led mission in partnership with the government of Haiti presented a number of unique challenges. One of these was the communication barrier that existed between attending physicians and their patients.
"The ship initially had about ten people on board to help with translating," said Chief Navy Career Counselor (SW) Marcel Blanfort, who headed up the translation department. "However, the commanding officer knew that the mission was of a greater scale."
Seventy-five Sailors and one Marine from 39 military commands joined their shipmates along with 88 Red Cross volunteers, all French or Creole speaking, to bridge the gap. They interacted with patients and the medical staff aboard daily, working in the casualty receiving area, the operating rooms and after care wards where patients were brought following treatment.
"I was really glad to come down and help," said Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Yves Henry, a surgical technician and translator from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va. "We came and helped to the best of our ability. Some of the people that we helped would have died if we didn't come."
Now, eight weeks after their humanitarian mission began, Comfort's crew is ready for a well-deserved reprieve.
"I'm excited about going home," said Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Vanal Lamour. "It will be nice to take some time to relax a little."
Many of the personnel embarked with Comfort will leave the ship in Norfolk before the remaining crew continues their trek to Baltimore.
"It is all the support from people at home that helped to make this possible," said Capt. Rodelio Laco, commodore, Task Group 41.8, who provided operational oversight aboard Comfort. "I would be proud to serve with any of these Sailors, any time, any where."
For more news from USNS Comfort visit www.navy.mil/local/tah20.