by Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Leake
Not every Coast Guard rescue mission involves a helicopter or small boat, a perilous rescue at sea amid storm-tossed seas, or a hardened crew braving the elements to save a life. Sometimes they can happen from a seemingly small act of compassion in a moment of connection. Instead of a heaved lifeline, all it can take for a successful rescue is an outreached hand.
Rose Kerney has been battling cancer since July. While undergoing chemotherapy treatments on the seventh floor of All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, Rose needed a distraction from the physical and mental stress of fighting the cancer.
“At the end of the hallway there’s a sitting area with a large window that has a bird’s eye view of the Coast Guard Cutter Resolute. It seems to be the favorite place for kids that are able to get around, as well as their families, to sit and look at the outside world. The Coast Guard is the topic of discussion,” said Matthew Kerney, Rose’s father.
He said Rose would spend hours watching the cutter, as it diverted her attention away from the cancer treatments. Her young mind would fill with questions of the life aboard the vessel, the missions it undertook, and the crew aboard. Instead of focusing on the seriousness of her battle, she sailed away with the crew of the Resolute every time she looked out the window.
That’s when her father decided to reach out to the Coast Guard. Not knowing where to start, he went to the barbershop at Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg where he met Fireman Carlos Cartagena, a cutter crewmember. Within a few hours, four Coast Guard members were ready to visit Rose in her hospital room.
“From speaking to Rose’s father I knew that a visit from us could provide her support. If we were able to brighten her day even a little, it was well worth it to us. We weren’t acting just as local Coast Guard members, but as a local family,” said Ensign Joe Kelly, the Resolute’s weapons officer. “Our goal was to do everything possible to help Rose’s situation. It was an opportunity for us to connect with her and send the message that she is not alone, and that she has support outside her immediate family.”
During the visit, the Coast Guardsmen felt they made a personal connection with Rose.
“We talked about everything associated with Rose’s life, from school to Taylor Swift to Halloween, to you name it. Our intention was not to focus on the cancer, which she undoubtedly hears about and physically experiences every day. We were there to lighten up the mood and make small talk while encouraging her to smile,” said Kelly.
The sight of the four uniformed members of the Resolute’s crew sharing smiles with his daughter had a poignant effect on Kerney, who is an Air Force veteran.
“My daughter had been going through an extremely tough chemotherapy treatment that had also created a great deal of depression for her. It had been weeks since she smiled, but when those four Coast Guard members walked into her room, she changed,” said Kerney. “The sincerity and bearing of those sailors is beyond description, and they truly performed a successful rescue mission that day.”
Ensign Joe Kelly, Ensign Elise Sako, Fireman Carlos Cartagena and Seaman Alexander Torres were part of a different type of rescue crew, but their dedication to improving one girl’s life is an action that is familiar to the saltiest search and rescue operator.
“This is just one of the reasons why I love the Coast Guard. We have the ability to help and impact so many people when we make the effort. It is ultimately a reminder of who we protect and why we serve,” said Kelly.