The US Military Sealift Command-operated hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) entered its homeport of Naval Station Norfolk on November 20 after concluding its Puerto Rico medical care mission.
Comfort departed Virginia Sept. 29, and had been in Puerto Rico for almost two months providing disaster relief support after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
Comfort worked with the Puerto Rico Department of Health and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to treat patients since the first day it arrived in Puerto Rico Oct 3.
Since departing Norfolk to provide humanitarian relief, sailors aboard Comfort have treated 1,899 patients, performed 191 surgeries, provided 76-thousand liters of oxygen and 10 tons of food and water.
“When we first got there, there was no electricity and everything was dark. We were a bright beacon that had power,” said Capt. Roger Gwinn, USNS Comfort’s master. “We met people that hadn’t showered in 8-9 days, hadn’t had a hot meal in the same amount of time, and that made the crew realize what we were dealing with.”
The ship conducted nearly 200 total surgeries to include 44 general surgical procedures such as hernia repair, gallbladder removal and appendix removal; 25 major orthopedic surgical cases; 17 amputations and 15 urologic procedures.
“What we saw were people with chronic conditions that had lost follow-up because either their clinics were gone or they hadn’t gotten their medications refilled,” said Capt. Kevin Buckley, USNS Comfort’s medical treatment facility commanding officer.
Several notable surgeries included a modified radical mastectomy for an advanced case of breast cancer, a complex multi-organ abdominal cancer resection, an urgent drainage and exploration of a complicated neck infection, and an emergent open repair of a ruptured aortic aneurysm which comprised the largest, most complex surgery ever performed on a hospital ship.