HOPE works in more than 35 countries worldwide. Please enjoy our blog as we document the successes and challenges of our work to provide Health Opportunities for People Everywhere.
Mirldred lives in Penelas bo Rucio Sector La Hayce, a rural mountainous region in the municipality of Ponce in Puerto Rico. She lives there with her father, mother-in-law, husband and daughter.
Because of their remote location, Mirldred and her family have seen little help since the hurricane.
When the Project HOPE medical team arrived in Bo Rucio Penuelas in late October, it was the first medical care her family had received since the storm.
“I have been taking insulin for diabetes and medicine for my thyroid," Mirldred said. "Before the hurricane I only had one vile of insulin. I am supposed to use insulin three times per day at 50 units each dose, but now I am only able to use 50 units of insulin at night. I also use metformin twice per day. Without the right amount of insulin I feel tired and my blood sugar was 200-250.”
Like many, Mirldred’s family is still facing a long road to recovery. The hurricane ripped off part of the roof of her house - her family’s beds, clothes and documents have all been destroyed from continuing rains. Her water system was also ruined from the raging storm, forcing her to make difficult choices. “I started drinking both river water and filtered water because the municipality isn’t providing enough water for my family. I give the bottled water to my daughter and I drink the filtered water,” she said.
Her father has Alzheimer’s and his mental health is deteriorating even more since the hurricane. “I have a lot of stress now and I cry a lot and I don’t have time to rest. However, I consider myself somewhat fortunate, because some people lost their house entirely,” she said.
Mirldred is grateful for the health support provided by Project HOPE. Keeping her blood sugar level is one less worry. “There hasn’t been anybody to help us since the hurricane before Project HOPE arrived.”
“People should donate to Project HOPE,” she said. “We had been for weeks without medical care until Project HOPE reached our community. Donations are helping my people return to their normal life and providing primary health care to hard to reach communities like mine.”
Elsa Castro lost her home in the rural community of Punto Oro because of Hurricane Maria, but rebuilding after the storm was the least of her worries.
The storm cut her community off from aid in the days after the storm, making it difficult for her to get food and water. More importantly, it made it difficult for her and her family to get medical care.
“I worry about my sister who has cancer,” she said.
“This is my main concern since I am her main caregiver.”
Elsa also faces her own challenges. She’s 76, and suffers from has high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Hurricane Maria made it more challenging for her to get the care and medicines she needs in order to keep her blood sugar and hypertension in check.
Her challenge is not uncommon in Puerto Rico. Many who live on the interior of the island have had limited access to medical care due to damaged roads, limited communication and other challenges caused by Hurricane Maria’s destruction. Project HOPE has responded to these challenges by setting up a mobile medical clinic in Puerto Rico, visiting hard-to-reach parts of the island that have not received care since the storm struck.
Recently the clinic, staffed with three nurse practitioners, two medical practitioners and a doctor, set up at a food and water distribution center near Elsa’s home. The team was able to provide Elsa with the care and medicines she needed to get her diabetes and heart issues back under control, so she could get back to focusing on her sister’s needs.
“I hope for a better world and that families can find sufficient food and water in the immediate future,” she said. “Project HOPE’s mobile clinic provided fantastic services!”
HOPE for Mother and Son
Mariza is one of many mothers whose life has changed after Hurricane Maria raged through Puerto Rico in September. Mariza, afraid her wooden house wasn’t stable enough to survive the hurricane, took her three sons to weather the storm with her sister in Ponce. After the storm passed, she returned to her home to find the storm had taken the roof off of the house and all of the household items were ruined by the water. To make things worse, fallen trees had crushed her car.
Since the hurricane, Mariza and her sons have had little access to food, water and phone reception.
“This has affected my life emotionally, physically and financially,” she said. “I feel desperate and shocked, and I am trying to adjust to this new life." There was no help and she felt very isolated and unadjusted. "I felt fear of the unknown because I have children and I felt very insecure,” she added.
Her 8-year-old son, James, felt the insecurity the most. He started to get sick after the storm, and he was afraid of returning home because he was afraid the storm would come back and take what little was left of the house.
Recently, Mariza and her family were able to reach a food and water distribution center, where Project HOPE was also hosting a medical clinic. Mariza received the supplies she desperately needed for her family and at the same time, she was also able to seek medical care for her son James. Kelly, a member of HOPE’s medical team, diagnosed James with upper respiratory problems caused by the after-effects of the storm. Rotting hurricane debris and other challenges from storm cleanup have presented issues for many in the weeks following Hurricane Maria.
To help alleviate James’ symptoms, HOPE provided James with new medication to help better treat and manage his asthma and allergies.
“You could see the relief in his body language when he was given the medications,” Kelly said.
For Kelly, helping James get the treatment he needed was a powerful reminder about the importance of providing care to families in need after a crisis. “The families of Puerto Rico have no idea how much they changed me. James' family story helped me remember that life is precious and that we must continue take care of one another. We are their chance of feeling hope again, and shining a light at the end of the tunnel. They need us, and they deserve all we have to offer.”
In spite of all Mariza has lost during the storm, she hasn’t lost hope. “I feel very appreciative and hopeful,” she said. “After receiving our food and water at the distribution point, Project HOPE provided my son with medical services. It is the only organization that I have been able to get medicine from since the hurricane. Project HOPE has been very loving and kind. There is a lot to be grateful for.”
Nayeli Pagan is one of the many children in Puerto Rico whose life has been changed in the wake of Hurricane Maria. She and her family live in Humacao, a small municipality on the southeastern side of the island where the storm first made landfall. When the storm hit, her family was forced to huddle inside a bathtub for protection after powerful winds blew off a door and other protection her family had put up to safeguard their home. “We felt insecure because it was the strongest wind we have seen on the island,” her father Omar said.
Still, in spite of all she’s lost, she has one simple wish.
“My dream is that I want diabetes to stay away so I can live a normal life.”
Nayeli was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at just 3 years old. She spent a month in intensive care as doctors and nurses worked to get her blood sugar back to normal levels. After she was released, the family faced new challenges in trying to keep her blood sugar levels normal.
“We tried to manage it with just a diet but it didn’t work. Her pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin,” her father said. As a result, Nayeli had to learn at a young age how to monitor her blood sugar levels and self-administer insulin as needed. “The biggest challenge for me is measuring my insulin and putting it on the needle,” she said.
In order to help monitor her blood sugar levels, Nayeli wears a Continuous Blood Monitor (CBM) that relies on cell service to provide readings every five minutes that can be viewed on a cell phone. When her blood sugar is too low or too high it sends an alert to her parents so they can provide her with food or insulin to get her levels back to normal.
Unfortunately, Hurricane Maria’s destruction has created challenges with the system. “Due to the lack of telephone coverage on the island we haven’t had this system,” her father said. Many on the island still don’t have electricity or cell service a month after the storm, and it could still take several more months before service is fully restored.
In order to help better manage her diabetes, Project HOPE’s team in Puerto Rico provided Nayeli with a year’s supply of insulin. Her family knows the insulin will go a long way in making sure they can keep their daughter healthy, but also know on an island where nearly 15 percent of the population has diabetes, they’re far from alone in their struggle. “This has affected our life in so many ways - emotionally, economically, and our time as a family. There are a lot of people like us who need help,” her father said.
Aregelia Marvez still remembers the fear she felt when Hurricane Maria hit Marueño, a rural mountain village in the Ponce municipality of Puerto Rico.
“All the water was inside. It was really scary,” she said.
Since the storm, Aregelia has spent most of her time trying to clean and salvage what she can in her house, but it isn’t easy. “I have trouble getting back to normal. I have trouble sleeping and have a lot of stress.”
On top of the challenges and stress that come with rebuilding after a storm, Aregelia is also dealing with a number of medical concerns. She has diabetes, high blood pressure, and other heart issues. “Every day I’ve been depressed thinking how I’m going to get insulin and food.”
She had not received any medical care after the storm, until Project HOPE’s mobile medical team stepped in earlier this week. When the team reached Marueño, they were alerted to Aregelia’s issues and were able to bring her a month’s worth of insulin, donated by Eli Lilly and Company. It was the first insulin she had received in three weeks.
Elsy Benitez-Vargas, a Project HOPE volunteer nurse who focuses on diabetes management, was thankful they were able to reach Aregelia when they did. “I know if she hadn’t received this vial of insulin today she would have gotten very sick,” she said. “We avoided the need for hospitalization.”
It will still take a long time for Aregelia and the rest of the Puerto Rican community to recover from the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria, but HOPE's efforts have renewed her resolve. “I hope to recover everything that I have, the house, family," she said. "When you are down, you fight for life.”
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