Venezuelan Immigrants Receive Medical Care In Trinidad During Comfort Visit

A work-related injury is how Yakin Estanda found himself aboard U.S. Navy Hospital Ship USNS Comfort off the shores of Trinidad and Tobago.
Steven McLoud / Diálogo | 24 September 2019

International Relations

Yakin Estanda, a Venezuelan immigrant who deserted his country's military and is now living in Trinidad, wears a cast after doctors aboard the USNS Comfort successfully operated on his elbow, which was injured during a work-related incident. (Photo: Steven McLoud, Diálogo)

Estanda was just one of 6,000 patients seen during USNS Comfort’s mission to Trinidad and Tobago, September 3-12. The ship is comprised of medical professionals from the U.S. Air Force, Army, and Navy, alongside participants from eight partner nations and nongovernmental organizations. Surgeons also performed more than 115 operations aboard the ship.

The Comfort is currently on a five-month deployment to Central and South America and the Caribbean in support of humanitarian and partner-building efforts as part of U.S. Southern Command’s Enduring Promise initiative.

Comfort is working with health and government partners to provide care on the ship and at land-based medical sites, helping to relieve pressure on national medical systems strained by an increase in Venezuelan migrants.

Three months ago, Estanda was a sergeant in the Venezuelan army. He left the military and fled the country with his wife and daughter when he was unable to sustain his family with his meager salary. With food and resources becoming scarce, they decided to make the short sea crossing to Trinidad, which is only 7 miles from the northernmost point of Venezuela.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the government of Trinidad and Tobago, there are an estimated 40,000 Venezuelans currently in the country.

U.S. Navy Captain Gabriel Lee, a pediatrician assigned to U.S. Navy Hospital Ship USNS Comfort performs a checkup on an infant Venezuelan migrant at a temporary medical treatment site in La Brea, Trinidad. (Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Bobby J Siens)

Estanda went to the medical site of Point Fortin on September 7, where doctors screened him and selected him for surgery aboard the ship the next day, where they were able to operate successfully on his elbow.

“I can’t tell you how thankful I am that the doctors here were able to fix me,” said Estanda as he choked back tears. “I know the doctors said it will take some time for my arm to heal, but I need to find another job soon. My family needs to eat.”

“When we’re at these sites, we try to see as many people as we can”, says Dr. Patrick Rooney, a U.S. army veteran and dentist with the University of California San Diego Pre-Dental Society. “We see them waiting for us and we realize the difference we can possibly make in their lives by helping them.”

This is the third year Dr. Rooney has been working with USNS Comfort and he has been with the mission since the ship’s first stop in Ecuador on June 26. He will be with the ship through its last mission in November, when it departs from Haiti.

“The smile on their face… that means the world to me. You know you’ve done a good job when you see that smile”, said Dr. Rooney.

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