SALT LAKE CITY — For decades the U.S. Naval Ship Mercy has carried medical teams and humanitarian supplies to the South Pacific, and it remains the Navy's lead hospital ship.
This summer hundreds of volunteers joined the ranks, many of them members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with ties to Utah.
During these missions, helicopters land and take-off from the deck of the USNS Mercy carrying life-saving supplies to people in need throughout the South Pacific. But as this maneuver takes place, other missions of mercy are happening below.
The 2012 tour took the crew and 100 Latter-day Saint volunteers to Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia. At each stop during the 3 ½-month tour, the medical teams select patients they believe they can help and take them into surgery.
Some of these operations are extremely difficult. Dr. John Jarsted, a surgeon and leader of the LDS volunteer team, worked on one little girl from Vietnam who suffered severe burns on her face.
"I reach out to use my scalpel on the first incision, and I think of raise it upward toward heaven, like, ‘What do I do?' Where do I begin?' And then I recovered my senses and set to work."
"She really expressed her thanks to all the doctors aboard the Mercy, particularly John Jarsted for helping her," the girl's father said through an interpreter.
"What I can tell you is that the Latter-day Saint volunteers were absolutely exceptional," said Cmdr. Matthew Provencher, director of Medical Services on the USNS Mercy.
LDS Charities also placed 106 pallets of supplies on board. Some hygiene kits and toys were delivered to Cambodia Children's Center.
"They are doing a wonderful job of providing education and care for these children that were abandoned in a nearby garbage dumb," said David Moo, president of the LDS Cambodia Panag Pan Mission.
While some of the volunteers on board the Mercy work on the medical side, others help the Navy Seabees or construction battalion to remodel clinics, orphanages and schools in these countries. The improvements included new roofs, new plumbing, new electrical systems, tile floors, repairs and paint to walls and ceilings.
"It just made me realize that it's not just any one thing that any of us does that creates a miracle," said Catherine Fogg, a registered nurse who is part of the Latter-day Saint volunteer team.
The Navy hospital ships, the Mercy and the Comfort, operate on different sides of the world. Each one travels every other year.