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US Navy Hospital Ship in Haiti, Treating Patients

  • David Dyar

The U.S. Navy Hospital ship Comfort reached Haiti before dawn Wednesday morning. Around that time, an aftershock that could even be felt on the Comfort, jolted the island, wrecking the pier that was going to be used as a staging area for patients. The ship's medical teams continue to receive patients by air.

At first light Wednesday morning, a smokey haze hung over Port-au-Prince, burning off as the day progressed. It is the view from the deck of the hospital ship Comfort, roughly two kilometers off shore.

The Comfort's two helicopters have been coming and going at a rapid pace, with the ability to ferry up to 11 patients at a time to the hospital ship.

Among them is a man who appears to be in his early twenties. One-third of his body is badly burned, and his head and face are charred and raw in places. Director of Surgery Commander Tim Donahue says the young man was brought in from a triage facility on the island. "He was the victim sort of an explosion when the gas station went off. This burn is, I'm shocked that he's doing this well, this many days out," he said.

Elsewhere, the pediatric ward is ready for the smallest patients. Each bed has a stuffed animal sitting on a pillow - teddy bears, dinosaurs, dogs, monkeys and even unicorns. The school-age child of one of the doctors on the Comfort organized a toy-collection drive right after the earthquake, and in a matter of 24 hours collected boxes of stuffed toys.

Doctors say children tend to make up about one-third of patients after disasters. Pediatric orthopedic surgeon Commander William Todd anticipates that many of the patients will be orphans or have been separated from their parents. "I think we're going to see a lot of those issues right now. We're going to see parents not knowing where their kids are and kids not knowing where their parents are," he said.

There is a very hopeful story aboard the Comfort - one of a mother made, not lost.

Twenty-one-year-old Gean Beline sits on the side of a bed in pediatrics, her head cocked sideways, smiling as she looks at her tiny baby, asleep in a playpen alongside stuffed toys. She named him Vinson, after the U.S. Aircraft Carrier Carl Vinson, where he was born only days ago. She said it felt right, and that she liked the name.

But there are also the people who are trying desperately to reach this ship by any means possible. As of Wednesday afternoon, a ferry boat packed with Haitians fleeing the island was about 1,000 meter from the Comfort. And a person in a kayak has paddled toward and around the hospital ship for hours, the kayak cutting a slip of bright orange in the blue sea. A number of guard boats are keeping the various crafts at bay.