US hospital ship continues mission to help Venezuelan refugees

By Neki Mohan - Anchor/Reporter, Brian Ely, Andrea Torres - Digital Reporter/Producer

LA BREA, Trinidad - The United States Naval Ship Comfort is still on a humanitarian medical mission aiming to treat as many Venezuelan refugees as possible. 

Earlier this month, the hospital ship sailed into the Gulf of Paria, an inland sea between the island of Trinidad and the east coast of Venezuela. The crew set up two screening centers in Trinidad. 

Eliaquinn Estanga was diagnosed with testicular cancer, and when he learned he needed surgery, Lt. Comdr. Dr. Austin Younger, a Navy surgeon, was ready to help in the ship. 

"I am very content and grateful," Estanga, 25, said, adding he left Venezuela about three months ago.

The United Nations estimates Trinidad and Tobago, a dual-island Caribbean nation, hosts more than 40,000 Venezuelans. Many of them didn't have access to health care in Venezuela, and as migrants, they are too afraid to go to hospitals for fear of being deported.   

According to the Navy, the ship's 10-day medical mission in Trinidad and Tobago provided care to more than 6,000 patients and included more than 115 surgeries aboard the ship. Capt. Brian J. Diebold said some were "very severe, life-changing surgeries."

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Morgan K. Nall

Lt. Cmdr. Peter McIntyre, the Navy medical site coordinator, said the Venezuelan refugees had access to physicians from the U.S. Navy, Air Force and Army. There were also volunteers from nongovernmental organizations and eight partner nations. 

According to Lt. Gen. Michael Plehn, deputy commander of U.S. Southern Command, it was the first time the hospital ship had visited Trinidad and Tobago since 2007. 

The hospital ship, which has been on a five-month deployment, has also made stops in Costa Rica, Peru, Panama, Colombia and Curacao. The ship departed Trinidad on Sept. 11 and headed to Grenada. The next scheduled stops are St. Lucia, St. Kitts, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica. 

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