Pacific Partnership 2012, anchored near the North Sulawesi island of Talaud in Indonesia as I write this early on June 13, has suffered a minor setback but enjoyed great success. The sea rose up unexpectedly around two o'clock on the morning of June 12 while we were sleeping, and badly damaged the ramp and platform we use to access our small utility boats, which carry us to and from shore. Though we lost our primary means of getting off and on the USNS Mercy, all the months of contingency planning paid off, and every affected group on the ship responded brilliantly. Since this year's schedule in Indonesia requires Mercy to move constantly from location to location, all of our medical and engineering teams were in their island locations when the waves struck. None of us, either shipboard personnel or the local people on shore, were able to meet and participate in ribbon cuttings and closing celebrations on the island of Sangihe, but thankfully all mission projects and clinics remained on schedule.
Since all our surgeries are taking place on board Mercy, patients and their escorts weren't impacted by the circumstances. As mentioned in a previous DipNote piece, all surgical patients, accompanied by an escorting family member or friend, boarded Mercy in the city of Manado, North Sulawesi, on either June 1-2, or June 6-7, and remained on board for their surgeries during the four to seven-day transit period while Mercy visited other islands. A fair number of those patients are children, such as the four-month-old girl pictured above (following cleft palate surgery). In a more demanding case, a team of surgeons joined with Indonesian doctors to remove a growth from a small boy's face which threatened his sight and possibly his life. It is impossible to be part of Pacific Partnership and not marvel at the priorities and events that have produced this particular opportunity in the lives of these individuals. These children's futures will be far less traumatic, potentially much brighter as a result of their surgeries.
I must make particular mention of the surgeons who operated in these cases. Even though Mercy is three football-fields long, the winds and waves tossed the ship around on the ocean, so the surgeons had to contend with a moving platform. Their skills are to be applauded.
Our planning team is also adeptly addressing their own challenges. In a long meeting the morning of June 13, the team determined a method to move all patients and sponsors, about 250 people, from the ship in Manado on June 14 and 15 in preparation for departure to the Philippines. Since Mercy no longer has a sea platform, one of her ten lifeboats will become an elevator, which will lower patients and others to the surface of the water, where they can transfer to a utility boat and be taken to the pier. Unfortunately, this is a one-way elevator, and anyone returning to Mercy from shore will need to enter the ship via a rope ladder. Our PP12 advance team in Calbayog, Samar, Philippines, has leased a barge to be in place upon our arrival there on June 18 so we can walk on and off the ship normally.
I'll continue to keep readers posted of Pacific Partnership's journey, and am grateful for your feedback and comments.