RIOHACHA, Colombia (NNS) -- Rubeleth Parra sits in a pediatric ward aboard hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) while her 3-year-old daughter, Emily, colors at a central table with other patients and staff members.
Four months ago, Rubeleth, her husband and Emily migrated from Venezuela to Riohacha, Colombia, in hopes of helping Emily, who suffers from a mass growing over her right eyelid.
“In Venezuela, we had a normal life, until the situation started worsening,” said Rubeleth, translated from Spanish. “We had our house and our belongings. It’s hard because we left everything behind.”
Without any belongings, the Venezuelan family is having to start over in a new country.
“We have to wait to bathe, cook … everything,” said Rubeleth. “In Venezuela, we had everything of our own and didn’t have to wait on these things. Here, we wait for everything, every little part of our lives.”
In Riohacha, one part of their lives they didn’t have to wait for was the Save the Children Foundation, an organization that told Rubeleth about a hospital ship coming to Colombia that could help her daughter.
“When she was four months old, she woke up one day with a mark on her eyelid; it almost looked like a bug bite,” said Rubeleth. “As time passed, it got bigger. I took her to the pediatrician and it was concluded that it was a mass.”
Emily went through a surgical screening at one of Comfort’s two medical sites in Riohacha.
“She is my only child,” said Rubeleth. “She motivated me to leave Venezuela. Her future is what matters most to me.”
After the screening, Emily and Rubeleth were flown via military helicopter back to the ship where Emily received her surgery.
“The surgery went very well,” said Rubeleth. “It came out the way I wanted and expected it to. Emily is already playing and coloring.”
The family is very grateful to the doctors who helped Emily.
“I want to thank the entire team for their care and for helping my daughter,” said Rubeleth.
Rubeleth gathers Emily’s things in a backpack, as the child runs around her feet, a Minnie Mouse stuffed animal clutched in her arms. The mother picks up her daughter and her things and begins the journey from the pediatric ward, aboard Comfort, back to mainland Colombia, where they will continue to build their new lives with a clean bill of health.
Comfort is on an 11-week medical support mission to Central and South America as part of U.S. Southern Command’s Enduring Promise initiative. Working with health and government partners in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Honduras, the embarked medical team will provide care on board and at land-based medical sites, helping to relieve pressure on national medical systems caused partly by an increase in cross-border migrants. The deployment reflects the United States’ enduring promise of friendship, partnership and solidarity with the Americas.
For more news from U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command & U.S. 4th Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/cusns/.