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Critically Injured 6-Year-Old Among First Patients on US Hospital Ship

Medical professionals aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort treat a six-year-old Haitian boy in the casualty receiving room aboard the 1,000-bed hospital ship, 19 Jan 2010
Medical professionals aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort treat a six-year-old Haitian boy in the casualty receiving room aboard the 1,000-bed hospital ship, 19 Jan 2010

Two young Haitian victims of the earthquake were helicoptered to the U.S. Navy ship Comfort, late Tuesday, before the ship even arrived in Haiti. The patients' arrival was earlier than planned, but the Comfort team was ready to receive and treat these critical cases.

The medics rolled the gurneys from the elevator directly into the casualty receiving ward.  The process was calm and precise, as the naval medical staff members put their experience and practice to work.

On one gurney, a 20-year-old man with a head injury.  On the other, a six-year-old boy whose pelvis was crushed by bricks during the earthquake.

Commander Shawn Safford, a pediatric surgeon with a Batman print on the cap of his scrubs, was ready to treat the boy. He had received notes from a doctor who had performed surgery on the child aboard the U.S. Aircraft carrier Carl Vinson.

"Well, I'll tell you if they're bringing pilots in in the middle of the night," he said.  "They're worried about the child. You know, the rules of engagement thus far for our pilots have been nighttime flights are for critical patients.  So, I'll tell you our anxiety is raised."

He says a number of specialists are on hand.  He believes some of the best resources from the United States are together in one spot on the Comfort.

Navy Corpsman Yves Henry, a native of Haiti, is acting as a translator. He met the six-year-old when he was rolled into casualty receiving, where the child said his name was Lionel.

"He was about to spell his name for me and he was about to tell me his birthday, and also he gave me his father's phone number," said Henry. "He was about to tell me that he had one brother who is older than him.  So he was very helpful."

Lionel arrived without any adult escort, raising concern that he might be an orphan or separated from his family. But the staff now has a contact number to try to track down a parent, and Henry is just one of the people ready to care for the child on the Comfort.

"I'm about to go to ICU because that's where he is right now to see how he is doing. I know he was sleeping," said Henry. "He told me he was not in any pain at all, he was just sleepy.  And he wanted some water."

After assessments, both patients were stabilized and taken to the Intensive Care Unit for observation.  Comfort director of surgery, Commander Tim Donahue, oversaw patient care, as well as the Comfort team's ability to handle the first two patients of this mission.

"I think the thing that I like the most is that everybody is working well together," he said. "This is our first, sort of, true exercise. We've drilled, but it's to good work."

More patients are expected to arrive from the U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson and a triage center in Port-au-Prince, Wednesday, with hundreds more expected to follow in the coming days.

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