ABOARD USNS COMFORT, At Sea (NNS) -- In each country they visit, the Continuing Promise 2015 (CP-15) team, embarked aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), stretches their arms wide, eager to welcome the multitude of prospective patients who are seeking medical care.
Thousands of host nation citizens determinedly pursue the treatments Comfort offers, often planning weeks ahead to meet the ship and her caregivers.
But sometimes the role reverses, and the provider pursues the patient. The human condition fosters a connection that cannot be denied, and the altruism of a group of people permanently touches the life of another.
Lt. Davi Mack, a psychiatric nurse and native of Virginia Beach, Virginia, assigned to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Virginia, had been assigned to his first subject matter expert exchange (SMEE) at a local hospital in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, the second mission stop in support of CP-15.
During their SMEE, Mack took the initiative to engage Guatemalan medical personnel on the needs of a potential patient he encountered during his visit to the local hospital.
One patient in particular, a toddler, caught Mack's attention. A large mass had overtaken the right side of the boy's face, distorting his features. Not knowing whether the doctors aboard Comfort could assist in alleviating the condition, Mack, in coordination with the hospital staff and the patient's family, gathered the patient's medical records and contact information in hopes the CP-15 medical team could do something for the boy.
Numerous medical officers, including Capt. Miguel Cubano, executive officer of the Medical Treatment Facility (MTF) aboard Comfort, assessed the boy's records and were able to facilitate a trip for the boy and his mother to come aboard Comfort for an examination.
The team determined the boy had a malignant tumor, ultimately determined to be acute myeloid leukemia, and would require chemotherapy. Despite all of its capabilities, Comfort did not have this capability that would be required to save this young man's life.
"We knew the boy would require additional testing and chemotherapy, but the nature of the CP-15 mission is such that we are unable to stay in any one country for more than eight or nine days at a time and cancer care is a long-term process," said Cmdr. Coleman Bryan, a native of Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, and pediatric hematologist-oncologist aboard Comfort.
As the ship sailed to its next mission stop, Bryan and other members of the pediatric team reached back to colleagues in the states as a final effort on behalf of the boy.
Eventually, word made its way to Operation Blessing International, a non-governmental organization (NGO) with a humanitarian focus aimed at alleviating human suffering. The organization was then able to assist with providing follow-up care for the patient.
A few months later, a chance encounter revealed the story's happy ending, providing Mack with an update on the patient.
Mack was coordinating host nation volunteer logistics ashore in Honduras when he struck up a conversation with David Andrews, Director of International Shipping, Operation Blessing, who revealed to him that, through the aid of Comfort, Guatemalan and American doctors and NGOs, the boy had been transported to Guatemala City and had begun chemotherapy at a local hospital.
"A perfect combination of partnership, cooperation, tenacity, and patient-centeredness led to the successful outcome of this case," said Andrews. "It's an illustration, too, that together we're greater than the sum of our parts."
Through the combined efforts of the CP-15 team and Operation Blessing International, the young patient was able to receive the critical care needed in order to receive treatment. The boy is one of more than 120,000 patients who have received care during the CP-15 mission.
Continuing Promise is a U.S. Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet-conducted deployment to conduct civil-military operations including humanitarian-civil assistance, subject matter expert exchanges, medical, dental, veterinary and engineering support and disaster response to partner nations and to show the U.S.' continued support and commitment to Central and South America and the Caribbean.
For more news from Continuing Promise, visit www.navy.mil/local/cp/.