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Local woman on humanitarian effort

Boonsboro High grad helping sick, needy

Boonsboro High grad helping sick, needy

July 20, 2009|By DONA FAIR / Special to The Herald-Mail

USNS COMFORT, COLON, Panama -- When most people leave their ship at this port city on the tiny ismuth that separates the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, they are normally met by a local greeter, scenic tours and a cold tropical drink. For the daughter of a Hagerstown couple, the scene awaiting her was much more tragic.

Ellen K. Tierney, daughter of Harry and Kathy Tierney of Mahogany Drive, Hagerstown, was one of more than 900 service members and other medical experts who daily met crowds of literally thousands of locals awaiting medical care during a four-month humanitarian and civic assistance mission at ports of call throughout Latin America and the Caribbean called "Continuing Promise 2009."

Tierney is a registered nurse aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, where she is not only helping assist those in need, but also receiving training from those experiences.

Continuing Promise 2009 is a partnership with Latin America and Caribbean nations who share a common interest in making the Americas stable and secure. Through professional and military exchanges and exercises, stability, peace and prosperity are preserved.

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During the past couple of months, Tierney and her fellow shipmates have been bringing smiles to thousands of grateful local nationals throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, by putting in long hours and lots of hard work in the extreme heat, humidity and rain.

"I am here as a Project Hope volunteer," said Tierney, who normally works as a neonatal intensive care unit registered nurse at the Maine Medical Center in Portland. "On the ship, I am working in the general intensive care unit with all kinds of population and ages of patients."

The men and women assigned to the ship are providing medical and dental care both on board and on shore. They are also providing engineering assistance at various sites in the host nations by doing everything from repairing school playgrounds, to renovating medical clinics. Locally, they are trekking through the jungle on foot to help a native Panamanian tribe build a dam to allow them to gather clean drinking water. Veterinarians and preventive medicine physicians are providing "roving" services around the countries, ensuring that the needs of the animal population are not forgotten.

Although Tierney's job is to help others, she is in turn receiving training and gaining experience from participating on this mission. "This is my first humanitarian mission, serving the underprivileged, and being able to be a part of working side by side with military members," said Tierney, who graduated in 1998 from Boonsboro High School, and received a bachelor's degree in nursing in 2003 from Towson University. "I am getting experience in triaging patients off shore, working with adult patients and helping collaborate efforts to make changes and help the underserved."

Amongst the backdrop of picture perfect tropical paradises that the average tourist sees in the various countries that the ship visited, Tierney and the crew encountered a totally different type of scenery. They saw scores of people living in a type of poverty not seen even in the worst areas of the United States. Indoor plumbing and electricity were luxuries. In Panama, thatched huts were the standard for the Embera Tribe, one of seven native tribes of Panama.

"Being able to be a part of all components of the mission, from helping at screening sites to screen people for surgery, to being able to scrub-in on surgical case and then taking care of the patients in the intensive care unit has been great," said Tierney, who has done travel nursing around the country for the past four years.

"Helping in the villages of Colon, Panama with acute care, giving out medications, glasses, vitamins, or just talking with the patients and hearing their stories and understanding their lives, are things that I will always remember.

As Tierney and the others journey on to Columbia, Nicaragua, and El Salvador before the end of this year's mission, they will continue to bring "comfort" to those in need.

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