About 19,000 people received assistance during the USNS Comfort’s scheduled stops in Belize and Guatemala as part of the humanitarian assistance mission Continuing Promise 2015, sponsored by the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).
The mission’s goal is to provide free medical treatment to 130,000 people in 11 Latin American countries from the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20). Belize and Guatemala were the Comfort’s first stops during its six-month deployment; from April 9-18, doctors working with the humanitarian mission diagnosed and treated 9,000 Belizeans, while the physicians performed 90 surgeries.
“Medical specialists from all fields agreed to perform various operations, from appendices to cysts and even dental care,” said Lieutenant Colonel Ricardo González, the chief of the United States Military Liaision Office in Belize.
Belizean authorities had previously consulted with the patients to determine who should receive major surgery from the physicians aboard the Comfort, which made two stops in the country …” one in Independence Village and the other in the village of Hattieville.
Doctors and dentists treated about 10,000 people in Guatemala
In Guatemala, where the hospital ship anchored from April 22 to May 2, physicians treated 10,000 people …” about 900 patients per day …” with the help of 80 interpreters. The Ministry of Health started a publicity campaign in 2014 about the impending visit of the hospital ship, so they could evaluate the needs for major surgery among Guatemalans.
One of those to benefit from this program was Melvin Súchite, 29, who had surgery on his right hand 34 months after having a motorcycle accident. Súchite had already been treated twice in Guatemala, but his body continually rejected the plate they placed to help with his hand’s mobility. Therefore, a government hospital in Guatemala referred him to the USNS Comfort.
“Thank God, they did an excellent job with the operation, because I can already move my hand without any problems, and it doesn’t hurt,” said Súchite, who spent two days on board the ship and received medication to complete his course of treatment at home.
A total of 108 surgeries were performed, said Capt. Sánchez, who was in charge of coordinating cases for the Comfort together with the Guatemalan Ministry of Health. The USNS Comfort also treated some of the victims of traffic accidents, according to Capt. Sánchez. Since March, traffic accidents killed 413 persons and left 1,967 injured in Guatemala.
Among the victims was 9-year-old Austin Quiej, who came in search of an operation that would help him recover mobility in his left leg and hand, which he had not been able to use for two months after a traffic accident left him with a fracture that was not treated properly.
Gabriela del Cid, Austin’s mother, said that the fracture was to his humerus and that doctors had placed a plate on his left hand, which the USNS Comfort personnel determined prevented him from using his hand because it was not the right size.
“On the ship, they treated him and they placed four screws which could be removed later, and they put a plate on his leg so it wouldn’t bother him as he grew, because it will grow along with him,” said the mother. “Austin is left-handed and he can already move his left arm and hand. And the wheelchair they donated to us has helped a lot with his leg, because we had to carry and bring him around in a plastic chair.”
Because the Comfort is a moving hospital with all of the accompanying services, those who need major surgery were hospitalized on board the ship and were released up to a day later. During their stay in the floating hospital, patients received …” in addition to medical treatment …” room and board as well as any needed medications.
Second visit to Guatemala
The Comfort first visited Guatemala in 2012, when it cast anchor at the port of Quetzal, to the south of the capital.
“This ship has rendered a great service to the Guatemalan people. It has everything that a hospital should have, and more,” said Guatemala’s Minister of Health, Luis Enrique Monterroso, who visited the 1,000-bed hospital ship on April 22.
With a crew of approximately 1,000, including civilian and Military medical personnel, engineers, veterinarians, logisticians, and Navy personnel, the hospital ship has completed almost half of its six-month deployment to Belize, Guatemala, Colombia, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, and Panama.