The Pacific Fleet Band played a song to welcome the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy as it arrived at Pearl Harbor yesterday.
Isle medical workers on mission of Mercy
Retired surgeon Dr. Carl Lum stood knee-deep in mud in a medical tent helping tsunami survivors in Indonesia when he saw a ship with large red crosses going by.
"I looked up and there was the Mercy off shore," said Lum, referring to the Navy's 894-foot white hospital ship with its large red crosses painted on its sides.
"I wished I was working on that ship. I didn't realize a year later, I would have the opportunity to serve on it. It represents a dream situation," he said.
Over the next five months, Lum will be one of four island physicians and four nurses who will volunteer in the next Aloha Medical Mission, providing medical assistance in the Philippines, Indonesia, and East Timor.
The mission was formed in 1983 by Dr. Ramon Sy, a local ear, nose and throat specialist. This is the first time it will be part of the Navy's humanitarian assistance mission to the western Pacific and Southeast Asia.
It's a relationship that Adm. Gary Roughead, U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, hopes will become permanent.
"It's a demonstration of our interest, our commitment to helping people in the region," Roughead said. "It's going to areas where the assistance is needed."
Besides the delegation of doctors and nurses, the USNS Mercy will be carrying four dental chairs and other dental supplies that were donated for Banda Aceh.
Lum, who has been volunteering his medical skills for the past 15 years, will fly to the Philippines on May 8 to join the Mercy's team doctors, dentists, veterinarians, nurses, and corpsmen. Later, he's expected to work at Kupang in Indonesia and later in Deli in East Timor.
Mercy's itinerary calls for stops in southern Philippines -- an area where Aloha Medical Mission has not served because of Islamic insurgency problems.
Mercy, a converted supertanker, is one of the Navy's two hospital ships. It has one of the largest trauma centers in the United states. The ship has room for 1,000 beds, four X-ray rooms, a CAT scan unit, dental surgical suite, an optometry, lens laboratory, burn center, labs and pharmacy.
However, for the next five months the ship will only use a portion of its 1,000-bed capacity, reducing it to 27, and will use only two of its 12 operating rooms. It's expected to utilize 12 of its 50 casualty receiving stations.
Lum said he expects that the patients his group will treat will have to be flown aboard by helicopters or treated ashore if there are adequate medical facilities. "Many times, we bring as much supplies as we can carry since many of the small towns are poorly equipped."
Lum estimated that during past Aloha Medical Missions to the Philippines he has seen up to 1,000 patients a day. "The people just lined up to see us."
Also joining Mercy's crew when it leaves here on Friday will be microbiologists, lab technicians, industrial hygiene specialists, preventive medicine technicians and an epidemiologist from the Navy Environmental Preventive Medicine Unit 6 from Pearl Harbor.
Over the next five months, Petty Officer Miguel Castillo, a Pearl Harbor preventive medicine technician, said his job will be mosquito control.
"It's a good thing" to help, said Castillo, who was born in the Philippines. "It's a way to reach out and help other countries."
Roughead said taking the doctors from Hawaii's Aloha Medical Mission was a result of the successful blending of the efforts of nongovernmental agencies that utilized the medical capabilities of the Mercy after the Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami.
During Mercy's last Pacific humanitarian, which included the tsunami relief effort, the Navy said the hospital ship treated 107,000 patients, performed 466 surgeries, distributed 11,555 pairs of glasses and performed more than 6,900 dental procedures. Besides Aceh, the Mercy helped victims of the March 2005 Nias Island earthquake in western Sumatra, as well as providing medical assistance in East Timor and Papua New Guinea.