U.S. Hospital Ship Returns Home from Puerto Rico Relief Mission

usns comfort puerto rico
The Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) arrives in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Oct. 3, 2017. U.S. Navy Photo

Military Sealift Command’s hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) returned to Naval Station Norfolk after providing life-saving medical care in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

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 it arrived in Puerto Rico on October 3, two weeks after the storm hit.

“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.”

Since departing Norfolk, the Navy said sailors aboard Comfort treated 1,899 patients, performed 191 surgeries, provided 76-thousand liters of oxygen and ten tons of food and water. The ship also conducted nearly 200 total surgeries, including 44 general surgical procedures (such as hernia repair, gallbladder removal and appendix removal), 25 major orthopedic surgical cases, 17 amputations and 15 urologic procedures, according to the Navy.

“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.

According to the Navy, 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.

There were also two children born onboard Comfort during the hurricane relief mission – one girl and one boy. The father of the boy was a U.S. Navy veteran.

The recovery mission in Puerto Rico continues under the long-term leadership of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and U.S. military reservists and National Guard.