The U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort not only changes the lives of patients receiving care in its operating rooms, but also those of its crew members.
That is the sentiment of Lieutenant Abraham de Los Santos, a specialist in emergency medicine and critical patient management, and Lieutenant Junior Grade Nidio Pérez, a general practitioner, both from the Dominican Navy, who joined partner nations’ medical crews aboard the USNS Comfort as part of U.S. Southern Command-sponsored humanitarian mission Continuing Promise 2022.
The USNS Comfort also has on board military personnel from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, and the Netherlands.
Lt. De Los Santos and Lt. j.g. Pérez traveled from Santo Domingo in mid-October to Naval Base Norfolk in Virginia, where they joined the 1,000-member crew, made up of U.S. military and civilian personnel, as well as members of federal agencies, international partners, and nongovernmental organizations, to bring medical and dental care to citizens of Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, before their final stop in Haiti.
Now back in their country, a few days after finishing their mission on the USNS Comfort and full of experience and new friendships, the Dominican officers spoke with Diálogo about this unique adventure that marked their lives.
Diálogo: What has your experience aboard the USNS Comfort been like?
Dominican Navy Lieutenant Abraham de Los Santos, specialist in emergency medicine and management of critical patients: We started at Norfolk Naval Base and after two months we arrived here in the Dominican Republic and we are almost done with the mission. I can only say that during all the time I’ve spent on board, the experience has been unique and formidable. The contact with all the patients, to see that the pathologies are the same throughout the region and above all to be able to help, really help, has been wonderful. And if we add to this the experience of meeting new people and new countries, it’s even more spectacular and very enriching as a service member.
Dominican Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade Nidio Pérez, general practitioner: It’s very interesting because we have seen many patients in different countries. Patients’ most frequent pathologies have been mostly with health problems related to hypertension and diabetes. We’ve also met military colleagues from different countries who’ve shared their experience with us. This experience has been phenomenal.
Diálogo: What would you say is the USNS Comfort’s greatest contribution to your medical-military experience?
Lt. De Los Santos: The experience aboard the ship has given me a lot, especially in patient management, since I’ve learned a lot from the other partners nations.
Lt. j.g. Pérez: Without a doubt, having been able to save lives, but also having been able to share, exchange, and learn new protocols and procedures.
Diálogo: How were you chosen by your country to participate in this humanitarian mission?
Lt. De Los Santos: I was informed in September that our commanding general had chosen us through the General Directorate of the Navy’s Medical Corps and Naval Health, since we had the profile to be able to participate in this mission. Actually, the profile was to be doctors and to be willing to work. English was not a barrier, since many people on board the USNS Comfort do not speak it. However, there are many service members, professional, and volunteer translators, especially when you are in patient care.
Lt. j.g. Pérez: It was very satisfying as a professional and as a military officer to be selected for this humanitarian mission. I think the mission requires professional personnel who are always trained and willing to work 100 percent.
Diálogo: Tell me something that stood out to you about your experience aboard the USNS Comfort.
Lt. De Los Santos: In general, I was struck by the way certain medical requirements and protocols were handled in the event of a patient’s health complication. I remember we were in Honduras when we had, for example, a patient who presented a coexistence of arterial hypertension with diabetes mellitus and after being evaluated, we coordinated with the public health personnel for his transfer; the patient was followed up until he recovered.
Lt. j.g. Pérez: On the USNS Comfort really all this new experience marks you in a general way, since you have to stick to protocols, schedules, sailing conditions, etc. As for the patients, each country has had its own particular touch when it comes to the condition of patients with critical conditions. In my case, I had a patient in Honduras who, upon coming in for a medical consultation, told me that she had very strong palpitations. We did an electrocardiogram and found that she might have acute coronary syndrome, which could cause a heart attack. In this case we coordinated with the local medical center and the patient was transferred and, thank God, everything was fine.
Diálogo: How can you sum up your experience as a crew member of the USNS Comfort?
Lt. De Los Santos: All I can say is that Continuing Promise has and must continue its promise.
Lt. j.g. Pérez: Continuing Promise 2022 has been very successful because in every country where the USNS Comfort has carried out its humanitarian mission, very many people have attended to be cared for.