Floating hospital wins praise for treating 200,000
The ship returned to the scene of 2004's devastating tsunami
Nurse Michele Okamoto and the USNS Mercy returned to the area devastated by 2004 Indonesian tsunami, and she liked what she saw.
"The most touching thing for me was having some of the people that we took care of come back aboard, and see them healthy and confident and just joyful to be reunited with their shipmates. They became like family."
Okamoto was one of 60 Project Hope volunteer doctors and nurses who joined the crew of the U.S. Military Sealift Command's hospital ship in May and treated patients in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia and East Timor. The medical and dental teams provided health care in local hospitals or in other Pacific areas where the Mercy was unable to dock and patients had to be shuttled by helicopter.
Adm. Gary Roughead, Pacific Fleet commander, said in welcoming the Mercy to Pearl Harbor yesterday on its way home to San Diego that military and civilian doctors and nurses had treated nearly 200,000 people, performed 1,000 surgeries, trained 6,000 people and issued 16,000 pairs of eyeglasses.
"It was a voyage of teamwork and cooperation," Roughead said before presenting the Mercy's crew with a meritorious unit citation.
"it was the first time the U.S. Navy and the military have ever proactively brought this ship forward," Roughead said.
The 60 volunteers from Project Hope were among 300 medical personnel from the Aloha Medical Mission, Tzu Chi Foundation, International Relief Team, University of California San Diego Re-Dental Society and the four host nations that offered humanitarian and civic assistance.
From May to September, the Navy said, the Mercy's medical team visited 10 locations in four countries, repairing nearly 250 pieces of biomedical equipment, conducting more than 300 preventative medicine surveys and training more than 6,000 people in a variety of medical topics.
Capt. Bradley Martin, mission commander, said in several cases the patients would have died had it not been for the medical assistance provided by Mercy's medical teams.
In the Philippines, Mercy medical teams, protected by military and Filipino security, operated in areas held by terrorists.
The Mercy's skipper, Capt. Joseph Moore, said his crew, the doctors and nurses worked long hours, from 5 a.m. to late evening briefings to prepare for the following day's medical missions.
"It took a lot of endurance," Moore said. "It took a lot of stamina and it took a lot of perseverance to really stick it through."