Bainbridge Corpsman involved in Haitian miracle

Published 8:48 pm Friday, February 5, 2010

Caribbean Sea—The elevator slowly made its way down to the USS Nassau’s (LHA-4) medical unit.

Cameras rolled as it halted into place and seven people waited in joyful, yet nervous, silence for the doors to slide open revealing a room filled with medical staff, some smiling, some crying.

This moment, drawing the end to what seemed to be a miracle.

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On Jan. 18, the Nassau got underway from its homeport of Norfolk, Va., for a regularly scheduled seven-month deployment.

A few days later, it was detoured in order to support Operation Unified Response, a humanitarian aid and relief mission to Haiti. The country, had been devastated by a 7.0 earthquake on Jan. 12 that left many of its buildings in ruins, its people helpless and the death toll rising.

The Navy responded sending several Navy vessels, including embarked Marine units into the Caribbean Sea to aid and assist.

Medical personnel onboard the Nassau were prepared to take whatever came their way expecting to see the worse. However, on Jan. 23, one patient still came as a complete surprise and in a very unexpected manner.

“We got the call that day, we were told there would be two adults and two children, so I was looking for four stretchers,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Jorge Ramirez, a flight deck petty officer who was working in flight deck triage. “Only three stretchers came in, and on the third stretcher there was a little boy and a box. I just thought that the box had some personal items in it until I noticed that someone had written on its side—’Baby in the box—do not throw away.'”

To everyone’s surprise, inside the box, there was indeed a baby, a newborn baby girl with a note indicating that she was a mere two days old.

Nassau’s medical personnel immediately treated the child for minor medical problems to establish the status of her health.

With a clean bill of health, news of the child rolled throughout the ship and soon many were calling the child “baby Nassau.” The crew really took to her and everyone wanted to see her. One sailor knitted a hat and booties set, while another got her a baby-sized Navy T-shirt.

The outpouring of love just continued to grow.

“I’ve come to see her every night she’s been here,” said Marine 1st Lt. Roy Foundren. “I just pray with her, play with her and sing to her.”

Caring for the child for several days, medical personnel were unaware of where the baby’s parents were until a Haitian woman came onboard the USNS Comfort looking for a newborn baby girl fitting the description of the one being cared for aboard the Nassau.

The crew was elated. Yet, there were still many concerns that had to be considered before a reunion could be scheduled.

“My main concern was whether or not this was the baby’s mother, but to have a mom come from the same place who delivered on the same day with a diagnosis that matches the baby aboard means it’s pretty likely that we found the mother,” said Lt. Cmdr. Brian Norwood, senior medical officer aboard USS Nassau.

Once it had been verified that the woman was indeed the mother of the child, the ship’s crew made arrangements for a reunion.

“I know she has to leave, but I’m going to be sad to see her go,” said Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Laketta Thomas from Bainbridge, Ga.

Thomas was one of the corpsman responsible for taking care of the infant while she was in the Nassau’s care.

“She’s been just wonderful,” she said.

The mother timidly walked through the crowd tears rolling down her cheeks until she reached the center where Thomas stood holding the baby Nassau, her little body wrapped tightly in a blanket. The staff gently placed the child into her mother’s arms and lowered her mother in to a wheelchair. The woman looked into her child’s eyes and began to weep as the crew did the same.

Nassau is deployed as part of Operation Unified Response, the humanitarian aid/disaster relief mission in Haiti.