“This is incredible,” said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Mary Beth Linnell, an optometrist from the USNS Mercy docked in Majuro, Republic of the Marshall Islands. “This is the whole reason that I decided to stay in the Navy after my initial three-year obligation. This is what I always hoped to do.”
Linnell and her team of Sailors flew to Kwajalein in early November to provide medical assistance and care for the residents of Ebeye recently, providing vision screenings and glasses dispensing to the Kwajalein Elementary School students, along with a dental team providing dental screenings and a cardiologist providing heart exams.
“I was able to deploy back in 2007 and 2009 and I waited until now to do it again,” said Linnell. “This is the best thing I’ve ever done in my 16 years in the Navy – the planning for the mission and the mission itself.”
Linnell explained that her team will go back to Majuro to perform vision screenings and glasses dispensing at the Lara Clinic as well as the Majuro Hospital. She said that the next stop on their Pacific tour will be the Solomon Islands where they will provide medical coverage for the Pacific Games. “I will be going to the outer islands to provide vision screenings again and glasses dispensing. It will be an adventure."
The largest contingent of Sailors provided dental screenings and dental education to more than 800 students over two days on Ebeye, led by Lt. Cdr. Amie Heim, pediatric dentist with the USNS Mercy.
“For the dental component, we screened and treated about 800 children in the local community. We did exams to find out what kind of dental problems they might have or cavities or infections. We painted fluoride vitamins to make their teeth really strong and then provided dental education to try to teach kids the right way to brush and how to take care of their teeth. Then we used all that information to give to the local dentist at the Ebeye Hospital dental clinic where he will continue to do some of the treatment. We had one of our own dentists over the two days helping with the treatments as well.”
Heim said that this is her first Pacific Partnership mission but she deployed for the Continuing Promise mission last year on the sister hospital ship, the USNS Comfort.
“This is something I really enjoy doing,” said Heim. “In dental school, I always signed up for all the mission trips possible. I always raised my hand. It’s just an honor and a privilege to be able to do it on a much larger scale in the Navy. This time was even more exciting because I go to see it from the ground up in the role of a dental planner.”
Heim was here earlier this summer to meet people in the local community to figure out what the needs are here to come up with a plan together.
What was the response from the community like? “Oh my gosh, it was incredible,” Heim said. “All the kids running in the street after we did some of the education with the big toothbrush. They were so happy and everywhere we went they were welcoming and giving us high fives and saluting us.
“Honestly, I was so very touched by the ceremony at the hospital we attended and all the folks at the hospital and elementary school who came to thank us. From a place that, they will tell you that they don’t have a lot but they have big hearts, you could feel that today. It was just a real honor and a privilege to be able to be a part of that and give back to that community.”
The third aspect of the USNS Mercy visit to Ebeye was having a cardiologist conducting exams on the populace.
U.S. Navy Cdr. Matt Russell, cardiologist with the USNS Mercy, said there was a backlog of about 150 patients who need both pediatric and adult echocardiography.
“The first two days we spent doing mostly adults, looking for patients with heart issues,” Russell said. “In total we did 26 echocardiography studies and saw 26 patients and consultations over the two days. Today we saw 13 pediatric patients of varying conditions from congenital heart disease to rheumatic heart disease, ages 2-17.
Russell explained that this was his first Pacific Partnership. “Clinically, I get exposure to a lot of conditions that I wouldn’t normally see in the United States such as rheumatic heart disease or non-corrected congenital heart disease in kids. Personally these were just wonderful people that I’ve ever met and really terrific doctors. It was a privilege to work with them.”
Russell further explained that “they have a major need for cardiovascular studies and it’s unmet unfortunately. I think we made a dent in the number of echoes that they need and the number of consultations they need but I think they need more.”
Russell’s assistant, HM Ramoune Scarlett, a hospital corpsman from the USNS Mercy said that a lot of the patients aren’t sick right now but could be as adults.
“I think this is crucial to get that information out to help the providers here so they can start treatment now so in the long run they aren’t suffering,” said Scarlett who has done this for six years.
“As a technologist, I am the hands-on guy. I take the images and the doctor does the interpretation.”
Scarlett explained that this was the first time he has deployed in 12 years in the Navy. “I’m happy I came on this trip. You get to see why you are in healthcare. You get to see the why. Being here reminds me so much of being back home (in Jamaica) so it hits home for me being able to help people. Being able to go to poorer countries and identifying what they are going through. It just reinforced my why … as to why I am in healthcare.”