Merciful mission: ZCHS grad Ashley Rohrman reflects on service in world’s largest floating hospital

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By Mark Ambrogi

Since Lt. Ashley Rohrman got her Navy commission after graduating from Purdue’s nursing school in 2008, her goal was to set sail on medical humanitarian journey.

She got her wish for six months in 2015 as the 2004 Zionsville Community High School graduate was part of the Continuing Promise program aboard the United States Naval Ship Comfort, the world’s largest hospital ship. The deployment lasted from April to September, and she visited 11 countries. Rohrman said the purpose of Continuing Promise is to provide medical aid to the people of Central, South America and Caribbean.

“It was more than I hoped it would be,” said Rohrman, a pediatric nurse stationed in Virginia Beach. “It was tough being away from home for six months, but it was an incredible experience. It really opened my eyes to the advantages we have.”

The ship served as a floating hospital with four intensive care units, 12 operating rooms and four in-patient units.

“There were a lot of different facets that went into the mission,” Rohrman said. “My part of it was providing medical aid and care for each of the countries that we went to. We had veterinarians, physicians and surgeons. We also had non-governmental agents that were on board with us, too.”

Rohrman, 30, said about 10 days were spent in each country, where they would set up two clinics.

“In each of those clinics we would see about 1,000 people a day,” Rohrman said. “Some drove from other countries to get to these clinics. We were there from sun up to sun down. We gave vaccines, medications, and we performed minor procedures.”

Rohrman said there were screenings for diabetes and high blood pressure and they performed X-rays.

“We would do all kinds of surgeries they wouldn’t be able to afford or have access to in their country,” Rohrman said.

Haiti was the last stop of the mission.

“Haiti was my favorite, but it also broke my heart,” she said. “It was devastating to see the way people lived, and that’s their normal.

“I felt like we did good and really helped people,” she added. “I wish we would could have stayed longer. I would love to go back with a mission trip.”

Honduras and Guatemala were the other countries in the most need, she said.

There were several chaplains on the trip. Rohrman said they went to orphanages and played sports with the children.

“We were building positive relations with them that way, too,” she said.

Her favorite experience was when they were in Honduras, visiting a rural school.

“We were going there to bring the children new shoes,” Rohrman said. “We had been given shoes by Samaritan’s Feet.”

Before giving the children new shoes, Rohrman said they washed the children’s feet as an act of love and service.

“That was one of the coolest experiences and one of the most rewarding,” she said.

That was one of many stops that Rohrman said they delivered shoes.

Rohrman had been awarded a Navy Nurse Corps scholarship her senior year at ZCHS.

She was stationed first in San Diego and then spent two years in Naples, Italy, before heading to Virginia.

“I’ve been blessed with having a career that is very well-rounded,” said Rohrman, who said she isn’t certain how much longer she will stay in the Navy. “I’ve done more in eight years than I ever thought I’d do.”

A CALLING

Rohrman saw the importance of being a nurse when her mother, Jo, battled colon cancer. She died in 1997 when Rohrman was 11 years old.

“I saw the importance of just being there when they’re sick,” Rohrman said. “I remember how friendly the nurses were to my mom. That brightened her day when she wasn’t feeling well. I wanted to give that back. My specialty is working with little kids with cancer. If I had to guess why I was drawn to that, I would expect it was the experiences I went through with my mom when she was sick.”

Rohrman’s father Ed and step-mother Peggy still live in Zionsville. Both Ed and Peggy are survivors of colon cancer.

“So that is a godsend,” said Rohrman, who has two step-sisters.

Her grandfather, Ed, served in the Navy during World War II. He and his wife Rose have been married 70 years.

“I’m so happy she went in the Navy,” said her grandfather. “I can’t say enough nice things about the Navy.”

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