Sunday, August 10, 2008

I’m on a WHAT?!

Dear Family & Friends,

Some days you just seem to be in the right place at the right time. At least for our new friend Debra Paver, the USNS Mercy was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. This wonderful story started out on Friday morning when we received a call from the US Embassy – who had just received a call from the Australian Embassy - asking for our assistance. It seems an Australian citizen was hiking the Kokoda Trail and had taken seriously ill. Debra, an attorney from the Melbourne area, was suffering from hyponatremia which is low sodium levels. She had been unconscious (essentially in a coma) for over a day. My doctor friends here tell me this low sodium thing can be very very bad. Funny, I always thought you were supposed to avoid too much salt? Pardon me for a moment, dear readers, while I head off to the vending machine for a bag of potato chips.

OK - Back to my story… It was not the best flying conditions and the local air ambulance helicopter did not have the right electronics to attempt the rescue. Our aviation detachment looked over the flight and was confident it could be carried out safely. Our helicopters are newer with better avionics; however, it would not be easy. The visibility was far from ideal and the flight would take them above 7000 feet into the Owen Stanley mountain range. The flight was meticulously planned and flawlessly flown by Lieutenant Beth Dassler from HSC-21. The hiking group had found a small clearing for the helicopter to land (see photo). It was a tight fit but Beth was able to hit a bull’s-eye setting the chopper down in center of the clearing. Debra was loaded aboard and the helo took off for the 25-minute flight back to the ship.

By the time Debra arrived at the ship, her condition was critical. We got her to CASREC where the medical teams commenced to stabilize her. She was put on a breathing tube and admitted to ICU so her blood chemistry could be monitored and adjusted. The doctors here were telling me her condition was very touch-and-go that night! By morning, Debra’s sodium levels had improved and she was taken off the breathing machine. When she woke up, Debra had no recollection of the last 24-hours let alone the helicopter flight or her coming aboard Mercy. Naturally she asked the inevitable question, “Where am I?”

I’m sure you can imagine the look on her face when the nurses told her, “You’re on a US Navy Hospital Ship.”

“I’m on a WHAT?! (Debra get’s the Mercy’s “one-liner” of the month award) I just happened to be down in ICU about this time and peeked in on her. The nurses were showing Debra a picture of Mercy – she kept shaking her head back and forth with a look of disbelief on her face.

When you think about it, Debra is pretty darn lucky! There was not another medical facility anywhere in the region with the capabilities to save her life. Somehow the stars and the galaxies had lined up to put Mercy at the right place and at the right time. I’m happy to report Debra is doing much better now. Her family arrived in Port Moresby today from Melbourne. I was honored to be able to escort them down to ICU. Debra’s mother was overjoyed when she saw her – especially to see her smiling and all the tubes and thingies removed. Looks like she will make a full recovery and we’ll be sending her home in a few days.

While I was writing this post, I made an interesting discovery about our new friend Debra Paver. She belongs to an organization called Trekking for a Life Free of Pain. This wonderful organization works to find a cure for EB (or Epidermolysis Bullosa). EB is a terrible and rare genetic skin disease which affects about 500, 000 people worldwide. Debra’s hike up the Kokoda Trail was to raise money for this worthwhile charity. So, like the crewmembers of USNS Mercy, Debra is also a humanitarian. Who knows – maybe…just maybe…this was why Mercy happened to be here on this day.

More to come…



VARNTOGA said...

Capt. Bob....good job

leesea said...

Capt give a BZ to all for this daring mission! Proves what a good helo pilot and great MTF can do.

John said...

Capt. Sir

Another BZ to the crew of the Mercy.

I continue to make it a daily priority to go to the PP 2008 site and read your posts and see the pictures of this great mission.

I am proud of all the work that is being provided by all who are part of PP 2008.

Keep up the good work in providing help to those that need it the most.

Thank you


Papagayo said...

Capt and Crew of the Mercy,

The Kokoda Trail represents an important part of Australian military history. It has become a must do spiritual experience.

I am greatful for the skilled assistance that the Mercy and her crew have provided one of our citizens. A postive news story for the USA Armed Forces for a change.

Congratulations and best wishes to all involved.

tq trekking said...

Well done USNS Mercy on a great job.
Just a big thanks to you and the US Engineers that are assisting in the rebuilding of bridges from Kokoda to the beaches of Buna & Gona that were destroyed by Cyclone Guba last year.
These are the things that you guys don't get enough PR in Australia for.
But from someone that knows, thanks heaps.

megan20c said...

Please pass on my thanks to all involved in assisting Deb --she is a wonderful friend of mine as well as a work colleage. All her friends are overjoyed at what you did and are doing for her (Please send her my love!!)We are counting the days until she returns -- until then she could clearly not be with a better group of people
Megan Austin

wendy said...

Captain and crew of the Mercy,
I will be forever grateful for the assistance you have given my sister. Without your collective expertise, skill, and willingness to assist, I am sure we would not have had such a wonderful outcome.

I am fully aware of how lucky we are for your intervention in this situation.

Please pass on my heartfelt thanks to all involved.


"Grendel" said...

Top Job! If you pass the West Coast of Australia (perhaps a shore leave in Fremantle?) We'd love to roast some fresh coffee beans for you all!

If you are passing by you'd be very welcome in Australia.

vicsar said...

Dear Deborah

What a lucky girl to be in such good hands. Thank you Captain and you wonderful lady helicopter pilot,

Love to you all, from Deborah's neighbours in 373 South Rd East Brighton

Florina & Vic, Nancy & Frank

Cassandra said...

You have made this Navy junior (and Marine wife) very proud to be an American. I am constantly humbled by the quality of our armed forces.

You all rock :) Thanks for a day brightener.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for the positive strategic communication you and your sailors give on behalf of the United States of America. Your presence anywhere in the world, on top of your top notch medical care, is a reminder to the world of our helping hand. Thank you for all you and your sailors do for our country. You make us proud.

K. Brogan Farren
MAJ, US Army Aviation
Student School for Advanced Military Studies

Navy Mom said...

Hello Cpt. Wiley,

all of the above comments said what is important.
All I can add is: Thank you, you all are great and I cannot wait to see you all soon.
Right time, right place, right people, right comes together, you've helped so many people in planned missions,and well, how destiny decides, you are live savers, unexpectedly. Wow, no words for that, what circumstances. Another person, who will never forget your act of mercy and spread the word.

Mercy Crew is incredible, I brag about you every day, keep it up and it's not much longer to be "HOME"!

Take care of yourself and the crew,

Renate Di-Do

sexy said...