USNS Comfort Operating at Full Capacity for First Time in History

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January 23, 2010

Army and Navy forces began flying Haitian earthquake victims to the USNS Comfort hospital ship Thursday in what military officials described as the largest medical evacuation in the image storied ship’s history.

Port-au-Prince

"The Comfort is going to full capacity," said Capt. Richard Sharpe, a Navy trauma surgeon helping orchestrate the move. "We’ve never done it before."

Lt. Col. Pat Hynes, commander of the 82nd Airborne units helping load ambulances, said the Army hadn’t conducted such an evacuation in more than half a century. "Not since Normandy," he said.

Patients were prioritized, loaded on to stretchers by Haitian volunteers or troops from Hynes’ 1st Battalion of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment and taken to Army ambulances. The red cross-emblazoned vehicles ferried the injured to a nearby landing pad where Blackhawk helicopters lifted them to the Comfort.

Getting patients to the ship and its 11 operating rooms is fairly straightforward. The bigger challenges come after surgery. The military has to keep patients flowing off the ship to allow for the next wave, which means finding a place for them to recuperate.

image Capt. Sharpe was working on a plan. "If we can’t move them off the ship, it becomes a floating hotel," he said. "The two-way street is a tough thing to set up."

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image100119-N-8366W-067 ATLANTIC OCEAN / Jan. 19, 2010 – Medical professionals aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) treat a six-year-old Haitian boy in the casualty receiving room aboard the 1,000-bed hospital ship. The boy transferred to Comfort by helicopter from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) for treatment for an injury to his bladder and a hip fracture.  More Photos »

Navy Times: Maritime Force Serves as Cornerstone of Relief Operations in Haiti »

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NPR Blog / Jan. 21, 2010Amid the death and serious injuries, life goes on. A baby girl was delivered by emergency C-section. Her mother’s pelvis was broken. The baby is doing great.

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