Sue Flower, a registered nurse from Canada, is one of more than 20 Eli Lilly and Company volunteers to serve with Project HOPE in areas of Puerto Rico still struggling to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria. Project HOPE and Lilly volunteers provided much-needed diabetes care, other critical health services, and education in the municipalities of Loiza, Ponce, Adjuntas, and Humacao in May and June.
As a registered nurse and health and safety consultant, I thought I knew what to expect when I signed up to volunteer with Project HOPE in Puerto Rico through Lilly’s Connecting Hearts Abroad program. I’m familiar with hectic days filled with many patients and the feeling of not having enough time. But being in Puerto Rico, even months after the hurricane hit, was something different than anything I had experienced before.
I joined a group of nutritionists, pharmacists, nurses, medics, and other health care professionals to help Project HOPE bring relief to the many Puerto Rican residents still in need. We provided outreach and care in community centers and shopping malls, under tents, in a bandstand space, and even a stadium. Together, we cared for more than 600 people around the island and did everything from providing blood pressure and blood sugar measurements, to nutrition advice, to diabetes education.
I’m proud to say that we were able to identify people at risk and help them get treatment. We uncovered a number of conditions and helped many. And because we also spent time listening, allowing time for people to talk, to share concerns, to let the tears flow, we were able to reassure even more. As volunteers, we used our compassion and willingness to help to enable change on a small scale.
But it’s not enough. The island is preparing for another hurricane season, even as they are still recovering from Maria. I left with bittersweet feelings, knowing that we had made a difference for many people on the island, but recognizing that there is still so much to do.
The people of Puerto Rico need long-term solutions, like education and understanding about diabetes, and support for behaviors that reduce the risk of the disease, and I’m proud to have played a part in that effort.
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