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Reporter’s Notebook: Boy Forgoes Party for Surgery

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD THE USNS COMFORT OFF THE COAST OF CORINTO, NICARAGUA, July 13, 2009 – It was Beyker Maldonado’s birthday last week.

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Beyker Maldonado and his friend chase a toy car July 10, 2009, while waiting in the reception area of the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort off the coast of Corinto, Nicaragua. Maldonado turned 2 on the ship as he waited for eye surgery. DoD photo by Fred W. Baker III

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The toddler likes to run, chase bouncy balls, and run.

Sporting a cloth diaper, a dirty T-shirt, socks and sandals, Beyker zips up and down the reception area here with Navy corpsmen in chase.

He turned 2 on July 10.

The boy’s grandmother had planned a party, but instead, Beyker will spend the night with his mother aboard this Navy hospital ship, preparing for eye surgery.

A few months ago, Beyker’s right eye started crossing toward his left. Now he has trouble focusing on and grabbing things, his mother said. Without the surgery, Beyker will likely do poorly at what little education is offered, and his job prospects as an adult are limited. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the western hemisphere, and Beyker likely would have been among the poorest.

His mother called this surgery a blessing from God.

I chatted with the chief medical officer, Navy Capt. James Ware, during lunch. We talked about soft power, international cooperation, departmental roles, and the value of civilian volunteers, among other things. With a mission like this, there are more talking points than there are stairs in this cavernous converted tanker. And there are hundreds and hundreds of stairs.

I hope to cover many of those points in a Web special that will be posted on DefenseLink this week as the USNS Comfort heads home after four months at sea, and stops in seven countries.

But as importantly, I hope to cover the human side. These trips leave lasting impressions on both those who are helped, and those who render the aid. I hope to tell a few of their stories.

Happy birthday, Beyker.

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