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Navy ship shines as beacon of hope for many Haitians

| Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010

ABOARD THE USS BATAAN — A few miles offshore from Port-au-Prince, this Navy amphibious assault ship serves as a beacon of hope for many Haitians.

Helicopters carrying medical supplies, soldiers and sailors, and food and water take off and touch down on the flight deck, nearly nonstop, until dark.

In the well of the ship, sailors load a landing craft utility, a boat amphibious forces use to transport equipment and troops. They stand at a large opening at the end of the ship, where the craft is tied off. They load pallets of meals-ready-to-eat with a forklift, driving across the lowered back of the ship and onto the ramp of the boat, a basic loading dock three miles out to sea.

Beneath the boat, brilliant turquoise water rolls with the tide's ebb and flow, lapping onto the deck and over a sailor's black boots. It takes hours to load the pallets. Once full, the boat heads to shore to deliver the rations to a small base set up at the former New Hope Mission near Neply.

Besides the Bataan's ability to provide aid, the ship contains a hospital capable of caring for 14 patients in intensive care and 44 others.

Inside one ward, Marie Rolett, who escaped from a collapsed building after spending a day beneath the rubble, lies on a bunk bed, a white sheet hanging down to provide some privacy. Her arms are bandaged, and she wears a green cloth sling. She holds her hand in the air to show her pinkie has been amputated.

Lt. Craig Fossee, 34, a doctor aboard the ship who once lived in Sewickley, checks on Rolett during rounds. He bends down to unwrap her hand and gently explains he wants to examine it. Marine Sgt. Gregory Chevalier translates to her native Creole.

She wants to know whether her finger will grow back.

"I'm afraid not," Fossee tells her.

A mother of five, Rolett feels lucky to be alive.

"If it wasn't for them being here, I probably wouldn't have gotten the treatment I needed," she says. "I would have probably died."

Stories like hers are common. Many patients leave a lasting mark on the sailors who treat them. Fossee's first patient on the ship was a 1-year-old who arrived malnourished, dehydrated and without family.

"Whenever I see an injured child around my kids' ages, it hits home," he says. His daughter Sofia is 3, and Emma is 10 months. He misses them and his wife, Melissa, but says he's proud for the opportunity to help the people of Haiti.

An estimated 20,000 people around Port-au-Prince need some type of surgery, he says.

"It's a large number. But we can put a small dent in it right now. We are trying to do our best to help these people. It's just the sheer numbers of the injured that make it difficult," Fossee says.

Rolett worries what will happen to her and her children once she recovers.

She sits on the edge of her bed, holding her arms in her lap, and says soberly in broken English: "When I get back, I have no place for sleeping. My home is no more."

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Additional Information:

Huge donation

The Atlantic Philanthropies is giving Global Links a $250,000 grant to provide relief in Haiti.

Global Links is working with Hospital Albert Schweitzer and local doctors to get donations of medical materials, medicine and equipment. Global links also is working with Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization to support Haitian doctors educated at the Latin American Medical School in Cuba.

Based in Garfield, Global Links is a nonproft group that recovers surplus medical material and gives it to hospitals abroad before the equipment ends up in landfills.

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