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Published:July 12th, 2007 09:02 EST
Surgeries, Eyeglasses Bring New Outlooks, Change Self-Perceptions

Surgeries, Eyeglasses Bring New Outlooks, Change Self-Perceptions

By SOP newswire

Panamanian Children Benefit from U.S. Hospital Ship Visit

Yukeicha Newell knows exactly what she wants to do when she finishes school. Her dream is to open a beauty salon. But for the past two years, this 15-year-old Panamanian girl has felt anything but beautiful. A large cyst on her neck has been an endless source of harassment and embarrassment.

Yukeicha’s mother took her to numerous local doctors, but none had the materials to remove the cyst. They also feared that the delicate operation might damage the girl’s voice permanently.

When one of Yukeicha’s doctors heard the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort was scheduled to call at the port of Colón, Panama, July 5-9, he recommended the girl visit the ship’s surgeons to see if they could do something for her. A brief stay in the ship’s operating room changed Yukeicha’s appearance and offered her the promise of a more normal life.

The Comfort is carrying more than 500 medical professionals on a four-month tour of 12 Latin American and Caribbean countries with a mission to provide primary health care services, minor surgeries, clinic rehabilitations, medical equipment repairs and medical training for the local health care workers.

Of the thousands of physical and dental examinations performed by the ship’s personnel in Colón, a handful turned up life-threatening problems that might otherwise have gone undetected, and as the commanding officer of the ship’s medical corps, Bruce Boynton, said July 5, even an abscessed tooth can kill someone if left untreated. Many other exams only served to ease minor aches and pains. However, a few of Comfort’s procedures change people’s lives dramatically.

Nurse Diane Speranza, a volunteer aboard ship with the nongovernmental organization Project Hope, works in triage at community clinics set up by the ship’s personnel at each port. In an interview July 9, she told of a woman who arrived at the clinic in Colón with a large sebaceous cyst over her eye. Normally, such a case would be referred to the ship’s operating rooms for surgery, but the operating room schedules were already full at that point.

A Project Hope volunteer surgeon at the clinic refused to turn the woman away, however. He scraped together one pair of sterile gloves and one scalpel. Using disposable diapers as padding around the point of incision, he operated on the cyst.

Speranza said the team gave the woman a mirror after the operation, and she was amazed at her appearance without the large growth over her eye. “She was so happy. This is going to have a lasting impact on this woman’s life," Speranza said. “It changes the way she looks. She feels better about herself."

She said the surgeon’s initiative proves you do not need an expensive operating room to change lives. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way," she said.

Navy hospital corpsman Mark Andrews works as an optician at the Comfort’s community clinics. He tells of one young man who entered the clinic with severe cataracts leaving him with only blurry light perception in one eye and completely blind in the other. After surgery aboard the ship, the boy’s vision was restored, allowing him to return to an entirely normal life.

Although that one boy’s life transformation was dramatic, Andrews also finds fulfillment in his ability to touch lives in smaller ways. During their five days in Colón, Andrews and his team provided eyeglasses to hundreds of children. He said he takes great satisfaction in knowing that these eyeglasses will enable the children to read books and blackboards in school over the next 10 years.

He said the children’s smiles when they clearly see their parents’ faces for the first time in years makes his job entirely worthwhile.

“Those expressions are the best part of the job," he said. “I’ve gotten back 10 times what I’ve put into this."

After passing through the Panama Canal July 10, the Comfort moves on to Nicaragua, where it will repeat the exercise. Andrews, Speranza and the rest of the ship’s medical staff will look to see how many more lives they can improve with a simple operation or a simple pair of glasses.