Navy surgical team performs first surgery at sea aboard the USS Mesa Verde

Posted at 3:26 PM, Aug 06, 2014

Aboard the USS Mesa Verde – The USS Mesa Verde made history in July with the first surgery aboard the Norfolk-based amphibious transport dock ship. The procedure was also the first ever surgery done by members of an Expeditionary Resuscitative Surgical System (ERSS) team since the teams were created in 2009.

The surgery, led by general surgeon Lt. Cmdr. Kara Wanchick of ERSS Team 12, was for a Marine with a severe hand infection that was potentially limb threatening, according to a release from the Navy.

Originally the ship had planned to transport the Marine to a shore-based facility, but high seas and distance from shore prohibited flight operations and forced the procedure be completed aboard the ship.

Photos: The Bataan Amphibious Ready Group on deployment

“It was a situation in which if we didn’t do something to control the infection, it could have gone on to cause more damage and limit what utility he had in that hand,” said Wanchick. “He needed treatment urgently, and we were too isolated by weather and distance to send him to a shore-based facility.”

ERSS are mobile trauma teams with the capability and equipment to deal with life-threatening emergencies, and deploy as missions require to various Navy platforms.

“The ERSS motto is ‘forever standing by,’ so we are pre-positioned in case something goes wrong,” said Lt. Cmdr. Elliot Ross, a member of ERSS Team 12. “This is the first time that we’ve actually executed the mission (of performing an emergent surgical procedure), so I think that’s pretty remarkable.”

“We had drilled on what we would do if we needed the operating room, but it’s always a lot more confusing in real life,” said Wanchick. “The ship’s crew and our crew integrated seamlessly. The operating room was ready in no time with everything that we needed.”

Ross said the whole ship came together for the evolution.

“The Medical Department on the ship identified the patient initially and consulted us,” said Ross. “Then we contacted our resources in the fleet and made sure that we had what we needed to do the procedure, even the ship’s captain came down.”

Ross said that the Mesa Verde had to be turned to create as little movement for operating as possible despite 12-15 foot seas.

“We had both ERSS assets and Mesa Verde assets working in the operating room. It was definitely a team effort,” said Ross.

A day after the surgery, the Marine patient was moved to a shore-based facility to continue recovery.

Wanchick said she hopes the surgery helps the ship’s crew understand the capabilities of the ship and the embarked ERSS.

“We ask these Sailors and Marines to do some pretty dangerous things,” said Wanchick. “I think it provides them some peace of mind to have help nearby if something should happen.”

ERSS Team 12 is comprised of nine Sailors from all over the world, with their home commands ranging from Jacksonville, Florida to Okinawa, Japan. The five officers and four enlisted members each bring unique skill sets to the ERSS group and to Mesa Verde.

The team boarded the Mesa Verde in May, following a brief underway period with the Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce.

“I’ve learned their process. You always learn something new every time you work with different surgeons and different techs,” said Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Cory Bemis, who assisted with the surgery. “It’s good to integrate with other people and figure out how they do things, which helps you better yourself.”

Mesa Verde is deployed with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.