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.
Our medical team has seen firsthand the serious situation many still face four weeks after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. The biggest concern and need requested by the people is the need for basic supplies, including food, water, and medication, as well as supplies for personal hygiene and wound care. Without more intervention, folks may lose access to medications, vaccinations, and protection from mosquitoes which could carry Zika, Chikungunya, and Dengue Fever.
Leftover damage from the storm also continues to create problems. Homeowners have done what they can to clean up, but there is nowhere to dispose of large pieces of hurricane debris which is now rotting and creating new health hazards. Many also lost roofs as part of the storm and do not have the tools and equipment to repair them and give themselves protection from the sun during the day.
Additionally, over three-fourths of people on the island still do not have electricity, and many will not get it back for several more months. No electricity makes it difficult for people to store and cook food, and also makes it challenging to boil water.
Skin breakdown is also very common here. People would sit in their wheelchairs with no shoes. I would lift their heels up to see blisters and breakdown. We did lots of education on prevention of pressure sores. Many had medications but as time went on their medications ran out and they had no place to get refills. The following days we spent a lot of time holding clinics to refill medications.
During our outreach in Loiza, we met a nun who knew the people and the area well, and sent us to a few homes where elderly and homebound patients lived. She had not seen them since the hurricane and was concerned about them.
One man was 98 years old and very emaciated, with sores and bruises all along his spine. It turned out he was sleeping on the floor and the hardness was causing skin breakdown on his bony spine.
The next day, one of our doctors returned to his home and brought him an egg crate mattress from our shelter where we were staying. He said it was an extra one that no one was using. You could see his gratitude but I could also tell he was a bit embarrassed. I just gave him a big hug and wanted to take him home with me.
There was another man who lived by himself and was wheelchair bound. He was barefoot and legs were swollen. We treated some wounds on his feet and wrapped his legs to decrease the swelling.
We asked him if he had water and he replied that he did. I asked him if I could get it for him. He had three small bottles in the refrigerator. His refrigerator door was open and the food there was moldy and dangerous to eat. He knew not to eat any of it but was not able to clean it out. There were flies and mosquitos everywhere. He said the three bottles would be enough but we knew otherwise. He said there were people much worse off then he was. We left him with water and canned food for several days.
His response was a common one we heard from many we helped during our time there. The people are so humble and did not complain about their situation. They simply expressed concern about their neighbors and family even though they had nothing themselves.
Sheila Grisard, a long-time volunteer nurse for Project HOPE was busy organizing donated supplies at the University Pediatric Hospital on Sunday. Working with two other HOPE volunteer nurses, and some volunteer students at the hospital, the group had nearly completed unpacking and organizing the donations when a pediatric doctor frantically ran into the supply room, requesting a size four tracheostomy for an infant who needed it immediately.
"Unfortunately we had not come across any tracheostomies in all our unpacking,” Sheila said. The pediatrician immediately returned to the infant, but Sheila and the team were determined to find a tracheostomy to save the infant. I reached over and pulled several boxes of rubber gloves off the shelves and was so excited to find a box of tracheostomies. I called for two students to help me find the size and the rest of this story is a miracle," she continued.
"At the bottom of the box was the size four tracheostomy that the doctor needed to save the child’s life. I grabbed it and ran up the stairs hoping we weren't too late."
"I can't tell you how excited everyone was to see that one size four tracheostomy in that entire room of donated supplies! What an amazing miracle and gift.”
Three weeks after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, the situation on the island remains dire – particularly for those in need of health care.
Federal officials have reported that less than half of the island’s medical work force has returned to work since the hurricane as many are struggling to recover themselves.
Those that were sick before are struggling to get the care and medications they need.
Project HOPE volunteers continue to fill the gap, whether finding the right tool just in time to save a young life, or bringing care and medicines to people living in hard-to-reach areas of the island that are still in critical need.
Thanks to your support, medical volunteers are providing support to local health facilities as well as establishing and staffing mobile medical clinics in high-need communities, visiting local nursing homes and conducting home visits to reach patients unable to make it to the clinics.
In the past few weeks:
- Volunteers have treated more than 320 patients in the hard-hit town of Loiza, in addition to refilling prescriptions and medication needs for community members.
- Project HOPE, working with partners on the ground, is distributing medicines and relief to hard-to-reach areas of the island that are still in high need of supplies.
- Through the support of two generous donors, Project HOPE is coordinating the delivery of 2,600 water purification kits to a local partner. Each kit can purify up to 3,000 liters of water, which is enough for a family of four up to one year. This donation could provide clean water to more than 10,000 people for a year.
- Project HOPE has implemented a Special Flights Initiative supporting the direct transport of HOPE medical volunteers, identified medicines and supplies from the U.S. to Puerto Rico via private aircrafts.
Today, my husband, Dr. Neil Shocket, and myself are completing our volunteer assignment with Project HOPE in Puerto Rico. It feels sad because I know there is so much more to be done, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that a nice shower and a soft bed to sleep on is sounding pretty good at this point (and no mosquitoes)!
We held a community clinic at a local church in a Loiza today, a town HOPE has been working in since Hurricane Maria hit because of the need and the lack of access to health care residents now have because of the storm.
We had an incredible turnout, it felt like we saw the entire community.
Most of our patients were diabetics needing medicines, people with hypertension, a few colds and flu.
The benefit to the community is measurable and the people are so grateful.
We also made our daily Walmart stop this morning and bought tons of personal hygiene supplies to give away. The sad thing is there has been no water to be found for the last three days!
On the U.S. assistance front, we have seen a few planes fly along the shoreline. I am sure there is help on the ground but none of us has seen it.
As Neil and I, and several other Project HOPE volunteers return home, a new team of RNs, nurse practitioners and doctors will continue providing health services and hygiene awareness in the hard-hit municipality of Loiza and delivering supplies and medicines to those who still need help.
Thank you to Project HOPE and the lifesaving work they do and thank you for letting Neil and I be a part of providing health care and support to so many in need after Hurricane Maria.
Today, we set out in two teams with two different objectives.
One volunteer team headed to the convention center to meet with other organizations to find new partnerships and more opportunities to provide medical care to Loiza or other communities around the island.
Our team started the day at a senior community center to see a few patients and then we went out into the community to visit patients in their homes.
You have to see the video to believe how cool these seniors were. Absolutely no comparison to what we see at home. As we walked in we heard singing and clapping enthusiastically with your hands up in the air. When they saw us, they reached out their arms and pulled us instantly into their dance routines! It was incredible to see such joy and enthusiasm in their eyes and how welcoming they were to new people in their environment.
A few of them had minor medical problems that we treated, and afterwards, we danced again before leaving to continue our day’s work.
We visited people in several homes. None of their medical issues were urgent but each of them needed to be seen. The first home was very small, the top floor was completely blown away. Several members of the family lived in what remained of the bottom floor. The refrigerator was open and had two or three half-filled bottles of water, a container of sugar, a few aged condiments and what looked like some old pieces of meat. There was an elderly woman that slept in a mosquito-net covered bed. She was frail and cachectic but was doing well despite the conditions. We filled the refrigerator with water, gave them some food items and moved onto the next home. Basically, that was the course of our day. We left each person feeling cared for and acknowledged with a little bit of water and food to hold them for a few days. It is sweltering hot here and the humidity is unbearable. I can't imagine the long term health effects on the people of Loiza from complete boredom in their small, sweltering, lightless homes.
I have no doubt that the medical issues will increase as time goes on from people drinking dirty water and eating food that has not been refrigerated for days and weeks on end.
In my last blog I mentioned a patient that asked me to go to her home to see the condition it was in after the hurricane. She told me she had 22 cats and was very concerned about their welfare. Today, after our home visits we went to her house. The outside was old and dilapidated and clearly was in disrepair before the hurricane. There were many cats sitting in the window and walking around the driveway. The smell of cat and dirt and mold could be recognized as soon as we got out of the car. I promised her I would bring her several things from her room. She wanted her robe, her papers with all her bills and her perfume.
The inside of the house was damaged by the hurricane. The ceiling in the hallway was caved in and in her bedroom was a large wooden plank hanging from the roof and laying across her bed. I think if she had been there during the Hurricane she would not have made it out. We gathered as many things as we could, took some pictures to show her of her cats as well as took a few family pictures off the walls and wrapped them up for her. We returned to the shelter and delivered on our promise.
It was a satisfying day and at the same time it is very frustrating to know that so many people are in need of medical care but there still is not a solid way to deliver it to the community. Every day we are working with different partners to try and establish the best plan to help this community as well as look at other communities and other needs and opportunities on the island.
Back at the Jewish Community Center, where the volunteers are staying, tonight was Sukkot. My husband, and fellow volunteer doctor, Neil, as well as Dr. Larry were asked to join in the service and then we were invited to say a blessing in the Sukkot. This Jewish connection was unexpected on this mission but served as a wonderful undertone.
The best part of the day was being able to eat real food from Burger King – not a place I ever go to, but it felt like French cuisine compared to all the nuts and granola bars we've been eating all week.
More than two weeks since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, Project HOPE continues to respond to urgent health needs as fears of a deepening health crisis grow. HOPE medical volunteers are going door-to-door to visit residents who are still unable to access care and the HOPE team is also setting up mobile clinics in towns in need of health services and support.
"The sense of desperation is growing each day," said Chris Skopec, HOPE’s executive vice president for global health and emergency response with Project HOPE.
Many areas of the island, particularly in the interior, remain in extreme need of aid ranging from drinking water and food to hygiene items and medical supplies. There are also significant disparities in electricity and clean water access across geographic zones.
"Our medical volunteers are treating a range of chronic illnesses, like diabetes, hypertension, skin rashes and there has been a significant outbreak of conjunctivitis,” said Skopec. “They're also seeing increasing rates of gastrointestinal disease, most likely caused by people drinking river water as they're not to access clean water."
Health officials in the country are preparing for a spike in infections due to poor hygiene and water contamination which are causing gastrointestinal outbreaks, skin rashes and conjunctivitis. Flu outbreaks are another major concern since there is still a lack of flu vaccines ahead of what is expected to be a very significant flu season. The outbreak risk of mosquito-borne illnesses like Zika and Chikayunga is also high due to standing bodies of lingering floodwater that are breeding grounds for the insect.
"An epidemic can spread fast in these kinds of conditions," Skopec said.
Thanks to your support there is HOPE. In the past two weeks, Project HOPE has
- Supported a 20 person emergency response team in Puerto Rico, including volunteer RNs, nurse practitioners and doctors
- Continued to provide health services and conduct health and hygiene awareness in the high-need municipality of Loíza
- Treated prevalent ailments include hypertension, diabetes, conjunctivitis and skin rashes
- Distributed a 40 foot container of desperately needed supplies to the municipality of Vega Baja
- Taken the lead in logistics operations at the University Pediatric Hospital, which will act as a hub for the distribution of medicines and supplies for facilities across the island
Project HOPE’s support of health care, health awareness outreach and delivery of supplies and medicines in Puerto Rico will continue in the coming weeks and months.
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