HOPE on the Ground in Puerto Rico
Dr. Lori Shocket and her husband, Emergency Room Physician Dr. Neil Shocket are volunteering for Project HOPE in Puerto Rico. The Shockets helped bring a lifesaving leukemia drug to a patient in desperate need of the medicine. They also arranged for the donated housing and facilities at the Jewish Community Center where the Project HOPE medical team is sleeping after long days of providing health care to people in need.
On Friday, just one hour before we boarded our plane to Puerto Rico, we successfully received the leukemia medication that we were asked to deliver to a 59-year-old patient, who was in desperate need of this lifesaving drug. The Project HOPE team, already on the ground, learned about the patient while going door to door in Puerto Rico checking on the health status of people isolated in their homes after days of no electricity and gasoline shortages. The Department of Health asked Project HOPE if they could obtain the needed drug along with transport approvals and have it delivered to the patient immediately.
Without the drug, the father of three would die.
When Neil and I walked off the plane in Puerto Rico, we were greeted by the nephew of our patient waiting to receive the leukemia medication for his uncle. He was incredibly grateful. What a day!
Listen the patient's nephew.
The next morning we started out the day with a trip to the local Walmart to pick up supplies. Some stores are open but as we see on the news, there are extraordinarily long lines. The line to enter to this store was 200 people. They were allowing 50 people in at a time. We were allowed to enter right away when we showed them our medical IDs. Inside it was a completely crazy story. I have never seen so many people in one place at one time! It was not just crowded but packed like sardines. There was little fresh food and no meat available. Still, everybody was friendly, helpful and patient.
Our intention for the trip was to purchase antibiotics. Our supplies had not yet arrived and we needed some prescription medications for our day. The pharmacist allowed Neil to write all the prescriptions he needed, with proof of his medical license. We also bought supplies and tons of food to make gift bags for our patients.
The streets of San Juan are filled with debris and dead trees. Most have been pushed to the sides of the road, but it's clear to see that just about everyone was affected. On the main highway there is an electrical pole that is still lying over all lanes of the freeway. The cars just drive under it. Funny, as we drove under, everyone in the van ducked as if to avoid being hit in the head - I guess it's just a natural reflex.
Traffic is rough, mostly because of the long lines for gas. The wait is five or six hours and there are what look like armed civilians guarding the driveways. There are also long lines of people with gas cans.
Other than the gas stations, Walmart and a Walgreens, little is open for business. It’s like living in an abandoned city. There are a lot of people on the streets but everything is closed. At night the skyline is pretty dark except for the few lights on because of generators.
After gathering supplies, we set off to the community of Loiza, a town heavily damaged by Hurricane Maria, yet so many people have still not been helped.
Every structure in the town was affected. There is no infrastructure.
NO electricity, NO phone service, NO stores open for business.
Besides us, we did not see any other agencies around.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta and his CNN crew followed us for the entire day as we went door to door, walking through the barrios of Loiza and reaching out to people in their homes, providing health care. We saw several patients, most with chronic issues who have not been able to see their doctor since before Irma. They were all in need of medical attention but I think their need for emotional support and food and water was greater.
Starting today, Project HOPE will be providing medical services at a clinic/emergency room, supporting local medical teams who are working limited schedules.
It was an emotional and eye-opening day for all of us. The Project HOPE team is amazing as is the impeccable organization and professionalism of this NGO.
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