SAN DIEGO — Frustrated with immigration posturing and tired of the mudslinging in Iowa, all the while trying to avoid thinking about Iran’s nuclear intentions, I was in the mood for a nice Christmas story that would warm the heart — a story about giving, sacrifice and good will toward our fellow man.
I got all that and more thanks to the U.S. Navy, which — it turns out — will make house calls, or rather boat calls, when responding to an emergency at sea.
Just ask 14-year-old Laura Montero of Albion, Ill., who was in excruciating pain after her appendix burst last week while she and her mother were on a cruise ship enroute to Mexico. The captain of the Dawn Princess had put out a distress call while the ship was about 250 miles out from the Mexican port of Cabo San Lucas. Luckily, the San Diego-based aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan happened to be in the nautical neighborhood because it was conducting a training exercise about 500 miles away, in preparation for deployment to the Persian Gulf. The carrier picked up the distress signal and headed toward the Dawn Princess. It took the warship all night to get within 175 miles of the vessel, and at that point a helicopter lifted off from the Reagan and flew another 45 minutes to reach the Dawn Princess with search-and-rescue sailors and a medic in tow.
But the copter crew realized there wasn’t enough room to land on the cruise ship, and so they had to lower one of the sailors onto the deck in a basket. Laura was loaded on and then lifted into the helicopter, where the medic tended to her. Then she was flown back to the Reagan for emergency surgery. The surgeon aboard the Reagan did first-rate work, according to civilian doctors who later examined Laura. And only two hours after landing on the carrier, the teenager was out of surgery and recovering nicely; sailors treated her like a celebrity, showering her with souvenirs: T-shirts, teddy bears and a ship cap.
Meanwhile, the carrier headed toward San Diego. With the surgery complete, the Navy shuttled Laura’s mom out to the carrier to join her daughter. After the ship docked Tuesday morning at North Island Naval Air Station, Laura was loaded onto an ambulance, which sped her to Rady Children’s Hospital to continue her recovery. As sailors carried her off the ship, she gave a thumbs-up.
It’s a remarkable and inspiring story. After all, it’s not every day that an aircraft carrier with 6,000 sailors aboard comes to the rescue of a teenage girl whose life would have been in jeopardy if her ruptured appendix had been left untreated for another day or two. The helicopter pilot, Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Leland, told The Associated Press that while the crew practices this sort of thing “all the time,” this was the first time he’d actually pulled a civilian off a cruise ship.
Once in the hospital, Laura was effusive in her thanks to the captains and crews of both ships for all they did. We should all be. It was a job well done, and a nice reminder of the kind of humanitarian work that the U.S. military does on a regular basis around the world.
Americans usually don’t hear these types of stories, or see these kinds of images, in part because these acts of charity often happen thousands of miles away. Even when journalists are around, there is always a tendency to put so-called hard news first, which often leads to accentuating the negative and downplaying the positive.
When these stories unfold abroad, the receipts of Uncle Sam’s generosity and good will are usually citizens of foreign countries. This time around, it’s even more special that the person rescued was one of our own — a teenager from a small town who was probably terrified through the whole ordeal but who was obviously in good hands.
And so, for those who lent a hand — and especially to the captain and crew of the Ronald Reagan, who reminded us all what the U.S. military is about — thanks for the Christmas present.
It was just what the doctor ordered.
Navarrette can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]