Volunteer Betty Ferguson Onboard to Serve

Posted By: Kathryn Allen on May 12, 2011

Labels: Americas , Haiti, Disaster and Health Crisis Missions, Jamaica, Peru , Humanitarian Aid, Volunteers


Project HOPE volunteer Betty Fish-Ferguson, on her second stint aboard the USNS Comfort, has experienced both extremes of the ship’s capability as a hospital ship.  Her first experience was as a HOPE volunteer nurse arriving 10 after days of the Haiti earthquake. Within one hour of setting foot on the ship, she was shown to Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU.)  With ten operating rooms working, two of them in operation twenty-four hours a day, the pace was unrelenting.  She worked twelve-hour shifts, seeing more than 50 high intensity cases a day come through.  The Comfort had a narrow mission during its four weeks in Haiti:  provide medical care and surgical care to as many severely injured earthquake victims as possible, a number that approached 1,000. 

Continuing Promise 2011, a planned humanitarian mission, is intense in a much different way.  Betty still works in the PACU, but the caseload is considerably less and the largest numbers of surgeries are hernia repairs and removal of cataracts with lens implants. These injuries are not caused by a natural disaster, but are the result of lifetimes that involve heavy lifting and intense exposure to the sun.  The surgeries, while lower level, have a dramatic impact on peoples’ lives, giving the gifts of sight, function and the alleviation of pain.  But the mission is about so much more, and this time Betty has had the opportunity to both witness and hear about the diverse ways in which host countries are provided help.   

“At the onsite medical clinics,” says Betty,” I helped direct people to the appropriate providers. In addition to medical and dental treatment, advice and referrals, I saw people receive wheelchairs, crutches, glasses, physical therapy, and prescription drugs. Then there were special events for children. Seeing the joy of hundreds of children who received new shoes, backpacks, dental care kits, and stuffed animals was priceless.” 

The engineering feats of the Seabees also made a big impression on Betty. In Jamaica and again in Peru, several schools that had no running water or working toilets had both once the ship left their harbor. Area hospitals that had non-working diagnostic or treatment equipment were left with ultrasound machines and respirators that worked perfectly, and the training to maintain them.

And in addition to high tech expertise, there was high touch warmth.  “One of the things that moved me the most was a group of volunteers who decided to sing in the pediatric ward each night after dinner. Even in Peru, language was no barrier.  We sang in English and then we sang in Spanish. It was beautiful.”

Having direct knowledge of the carnage disaster brings, Betty is especially gratified that improved disaster preparedness is a core function of Continuing Promise 20II.

“Through many presentations and exchanges with local hospitals and public officials, we are laying the groundwork for a more efficient response to any future disasters in the Americas.”

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