CARIBBEAN SEA — The sound of two bells rang through the passageways of the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) as the announcement passed over the ship’s one main circuit.
“Sara Victoria Llull Rodriguiz, born this day Oct. 14, arriving!”
With Comfort underway in the vicinity of San Juan, Puerto Rico, providing medical assistance throughout a region devastated by Hurricane Maria, the birth of Sara aboard the ship was a reminder of the work to be done but also hope for the future of the island.
“I never thought that our special moment would happen here on this ship,” said Francisco Llull Vera, Sara’s father. “Everyone has been so helpful and gentle while caring for our baby. I hope this opens the door for those who still need help to seek out the Comfort.”
At 6 pounds 8 ounces, Sara may be small, but her presence is mighty. Her birth on Comfort gained the attention of Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello who said this has been a bit of good news that has gone across the island. Capt. Kevin Robinson, Comfort’s mission commander, said the special occasion is one felt throughout the ship.
“I think the birth of that little girl has reinvigorated the crew,” said Robinson.
One of Comfort’s primary missions is to provide full hospital services to support U.S. disaster relief and humanitarian operations worldwide. Although fully equipped, capable and ready to support, Sara’s delivery came to many as a welcome surprise.
“We stood up the labor and delivery ward prior to getting underway,” said Lt. Karri Washbon, a labor and delivery nurse aboard Comfort who assisted with Sara’s birth. “We expected to see a lot of patients, but we weren’t sure how often we’d get to utilize this aspect. With every birth there is a unique story and we are glad to be a part of their experience. Now everyone just wants to see the baby!”
While more than 800 medical personnel and support staff aboard Comfort want to greet their newest “shipmate,” Sara’s 6-year-old brother Alonzo and 4-year-old sister Sofia, who are currently staying with family ashore in Puerto Rico, anxiously await her return.
“They are so excited to meet her,” said Tania Rodriguiz Ramos, Sara’s mother. “I got the chance to call my family and let them know that I am ok and that the baby is healthy and happy. It’s a huge blessing for Sara to be here; I owe everything to the doctors and nurses and everyone on board.”
The last birth aboard Comfort occurred Jan. 21, 2010, while the ship was providing humanitarian relief in support of Operation Unified Response following a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that caused severe damage in Haiti.
Recognizing the rarity of the situation, Comfort’s current Ship’s Master Roger Gwinn ceremoniously renamed one of the ship’s two small boat tenders the Sara Victoria.
“We wanted to do something special, the crew has taken to the baby as one of our own,” said Gwinn. “As she goes forward in life, we hope she carries Comfort with her.”
As of Oct. 15, Comfort has delivered more than 10 tons of food and water, 21,000 liters of oxygen and treated more than 100 patients to relieve pressure on the Puerto Rican health system.
Comfort is currently underway operating in the vicinity of San Juan to provide medical services with additional visits being planned around the island. The U.S. Health and Human Services and Puerto Rico Department of Health representatives are prioritizing patients at each stop prior to Comfort’s arrival. The Department of Defense is supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the lead federal agency, in helping those affected by Hurricane Maria to minimize suffering and is one component of the overall whole-of-government response effort. (By Petty Officer 1st Class Ernest Scott, Navy Public Affairs Support Element East)