Responding to Maria
After Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico on September 20, the island was left without power, clean water or communication capabilities. People were in desperate need of help. And, on October 6, that help arrived from a most unexpected spot on the globe: the tiny island nation of Haiti, which itself is well-versed in the damage and destruction caused by natural disasters. Read more about our Haitian Response Team, here.
Heart to Heart International is going to some of the hardest-hit and remote areas of Puerto Rico bringing medical relief to people cut-off from the outside world. HHI medical volunteer teams are in Caguas, Puerto Rico. They are seeing patients in Rio Canas, Orocovis and Jayuya. They have also set up an urgent/primary care center in Barranquitas. The teams are the only humanitarian responders providing medical care in these remote areas. Please support our efforts to help those in greatest need.
HHI has 19 volunteers and staff in various locations throughout Puerto Rico,
responding to the greatest need.
Vieques: On 11/18, HHI team members encountered some difficulties on their way to Iglesia Melodista, La Plaza, Vieques. Because the ferry to the island had to transport all of the fuel trucks to the island, it wouldn’t transport passengers. The FURA (forces United for Rapid Action) Unit from the Puerto Rican Police offered to take the HHI team to the island. As a result, the team was able to see 53 patients, conduct 1 house call, and even sent a woman in hypertensive crisis to the hospital. The team also administered 15 flu vaccines and 27 tetanus vaccines, and handed out 45 hygiene kits. Team Arroyo worked hard, keeping positive attitudes throughout the entire ordeal, despite pouring rain for most of the day, and having to cart all of the supplies from the dock up to the plaza.
Barrio Marin Bajo, Patillas: On 11/16, HHI team members were the first outside help to visit the Barrio Marin Bajo, Patillas. The team saw 19 patients, handed out 19 hygiene kits, and administered 15 flu and 19 tetanus vaccines. The community is 35 minutes outside of town, but still accessible via steep.
Patillas Town Transit Center: The HHI team, working in conjunction with the Puerto Rico State Guard (PRSG), saw 35 patients on 11/16 at the Patillas Town Transit Center. The team also administered 18 flu and 30 tetanus vaccines
Los Pollos, Patillas: On 11/14, Team Arroyo worked a clinic in Los Pollos, Patillas, in conjunction with the Centro de Salud Patillas. The team saw 58 patients, administered 27 flu and 26 tetanus vaccines, and gave out 65 hygiene kits. While the community is accessible, the roads are in very bad condition and bridges are in need of repair.
El Tuque, Ponce: The HHI team saw 66 patients at the Nazarene church Iglesia del Nazareno, in El Tuque, Ponce. The team also administered 28 flu and 20 tetanus vaccines. On the day of the clinic, because the local CDT was referring people to HHI to receive vaccinations, HHI ran out of the stock by midday.
San Juan, PR: Jim Mitchum and Sue Mangicaro received a request for tetanus vaccines from Dr. Sanet Torres-Torres at San Jorge Children’s Hospital. Jim and Sue delivered the 75 tetanus vaccines to the hospital on 10/5.
Caguas, PR: Teams are helping with medical care needs of the elderly trapped without power in high-rise apartment buildings. Without power, these people are forced to survive without air conditioning and elevator service, leaving many elderly residents stranded. The team has also help neighborhood clinics in the Caguas area. Most of the treatment is for prescription refills and stress-related illnesses.
Comerío, PR: After it was determined that work at the shelter and home visits were no longer needed, HHI is working to continue assessing the needs in other communities near Camerio (e.g. Aguas Buenas, Ciara, etc.) to begin work next week.
Jayuya, PR: The team has been supplementing the one doctor in a small, but busy, urgent care hospital. The team has been working the 3pm – 11pm shift, and brought in a mobile lab and tetanus vaccines. HHI will be bringing in a replacement team for our first team (switching on Friday) and then supplementing them with additional providers and nurses on Saturday. HHI is intending to strengthen the team in Jayuya and use that location as a secondary base, while maintaining the center in Caguas. HHI wants to use the Jayuya staff to conduct mobile clinics and reach more isolated communities in that mountain areas. Baxter and Abbvie are large employers in Jayuya, and because of HHI’s longstanding connections with them, HHI has also been asked to hold clinics for employees on site at the companys’ locations.
Barranquitas, PR: The team in Barranquitas has been conducting daily clinics, seeing approximately 50 patients each day, ranging in age, but primarily middle-age and older. Normal diseases (e.g. Diabetes, etc.) are being reported. As the first team changes out to a new one, they will not staff the clinic on 10/6. They will return on Monday 10/9.
Desperate for food, water and medical care, the residents of Puerto Rico are reeling and struggling to recover. “Make no mistake – this is a humanitarian disaster involving 3.4 million US citizens,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said.
Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane with 155-mph winds, destroyed and devastated homes, flooded neighborhoods and wiped out crop fields when it blew through the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico on September 20. Much of the 3,515-square-mile island remains without electricity and communication.
But before the first drops of rain even fell, Heart to Heart International was making plans to respond to the disaster with medical personnel and supplies. As dusk approached on September 24, four days after the storm first made landfall, HHI’s advance team reached Hospital Menonita De Caguas in Caguas, Puerto Rico. The team had traveled by helicopter to Puerto Rico from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with refueling stops in the Dominican Republic and San Juan, and then finally on to Caguas, a major city south of the capital of San Juan. Nurses at the hospital, relieved to welcome the first aid workers, rushed to greet and help the HHI team as they arrived.
The two-member HHI advance team, which included Dr. Gary Morsch, co-founder of HHI, encountered significant damage at the Hospital Menonita De Caguas. Windows were blown out, parts of the building was missing and water was still standing in some areas. Just 5 floors of the 10-floor hospital were operational, and the entire hospital was running on power from generators, leading to no air conditioning and much of the hospital functioning in the dark. Patients, including 100 inpatients, crowded throughout the hot and stifling hospital, with the lobby serving as a makeshift ER and the chapel as a trauma room. Upon arriving, Dr. Morsch immediately began work in the emergency room, relieving staff members, most of whom had not left the hospital and had been working non-stop since the hurricane first hit.
With passenger airplane travel to Puerto Rico still proving impossible, HHI was forced to find another way to transport its second team. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. International donated rooms and meals for team members and the space to carry thousands of pounds of gear, medical supplies, vaccines and generators. Following this travel, HHI’s disaster response team, consisting of Heart to Heart CEO Jim Mitchum along with seven other medical and logistical personnel, arrived in Puerto Rico, on Wednesday, September 27.
With the addition of more doctors, nurses, EMTs, paramedics and logistics personnel, Heart to Heart’s medical teams have been able to push westward through the mountains, visiting numerous towns, meeting with hospital administrators, mayors, and other officials, and finding areas of need in which HHI can assist. In town after town, from Rio Cañas through Orocovis, HHI teams were welcomed and told they were the first aid workers to arrive. Teams are currently providing medical care in several different communities.
In Caguas, mobile teams are caring for the elderly, visiting nursing homes and high-rise retirement centers, where the lack of power has frozen the elevators, trapping the aged in their rooms. People in these communities are asking for food and water, and are running out of their medicines.
Travel in the mountains was treacherous as team members meandered around landslides, fallen trees and power lines on their way to the town of Barranquitas. The mayor told the team that the town hospital was closed and asked HHI to open a clinic in a community center.
Further to the west, in the town of Jayuya, the mayor took the HHI team to the town’s small 8-bed hospital, where up to 80 patients a day were being seen in the ER. One very tired doctor and a couple of nurses were trying to take care of everything, 24 hours a day, in this hospital. HHI placed a medical team in the hospital in response to the request for extra doctors and nurses. Heart to Heart team members were the first aid workers to arrive at the hospital and the exhausted staff were extremely grateful for some relief.
Communication is so difficult throughout Puerto Rico that when Heart to Heart reported where its teams had visited to federal officials in San Juan, the officials themselves had not heard from these areas since the hurricane.
In addition to personnel on the ground, Heart to Heart International has shipped 40 pallets of urgent humanitarian aid to Puerto Rico. HHI’s first FedEx shipment of supplies arrived in San Juan on Saturday, September 30. FedEx donated the shipping (trucking and flight), and HHI is collaborating with Nazarene Compassionate Ministries (NCM) on the ground in Puerto Rico for distribution, with several local pastors taking boxes of food and supplies to disburse throughout their communities. The pallets include 270,000 meals from Convoy of Hope, hygiene kits from HHI, feminine hygiene supplies from HHI and water filtration systems from NCM. HHI is continuing to evaluate on-the-ground needs and requests in order to plan for the next shipments into Puerto Rico and other islands impacted by Hurricane Maria. To date, on top of the shipment to Puerto Rico, HHI has shipped one 20-foot container of medical supplies to both Antigua and St. Lucia.
Staff members at Heart to Heart International headquarters are working long hours to provide support and supplies to team members on the ground in Puerto Rico. And, new teams of medical volunteers are being prepped and readied to travel when deemed necessary. “We were asked [by officials] to continue to move through the mountains, assessing as many communities as possible,” Morsch said. “That is exactly what we are doing, and will continue to do, caring for the ill and the wounded, delivering medicines and supplies as we go.”
Heart to Heart Stories
November 19th, 2017 – As Logistics Coordinator who led five separate teams for nearly two months in the towns of Arroyo, Jayuya, Barranquitas, Guayama, Yabucoa, Patillas, Maunabo, Comerio and Vieques, Jordan Grover prepares to return home to North Carolina tomorrow. Jordan’s leadership made a difference in the lives of more than 700 patients treated by HHI primary care and vaccination clinics in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
November 18th, 2017 – More aid to #PuertoRico. Working with The Church of the Resurrection Leawood (UMC), Heart to Heart International has delivered more important aid to people who desperately need our help and will for some time. This is one more example of how HHI is able to help in times of crisis and how working with our church partners leads to more opportunity to serve.
Nov. 11th – In 1968, this Puerto Rican veteran was wounded at Khe Sanh, Vietnam, losing one of his legs. Today he is living in a heavily damaged area of Arecibo and suffers from serious medical conditions. Fortunately, a Heart to Heart International medical team was able to get to him and provide treatment. On Veterans Day 2017, let’s not forget the thousands of Puerto Rican vets who have served their country faithfully and are still living without electricity, clean water or refrigeration. As fellow Americans, they deserve better, and they deserve our help.
Nov. 10th – This morning in Utuado… another big clinic is just getting started. The team saw 109 patients on Thursday and may see similar numbers today. Great to see Dr. Duane Spaulding and Dr. Jackenson Davilmar together… so many years working together in Haiti, these two men are now together helping people in Puerto Rico!
Nov. 3rd – In the aftermath of a disaster, certain victims face extra challenges and dangers. The inability to travel or receive necessary medication, combined with a community’s lack of power and clean water, can make daily life insufferable or even perilous for those people who were suffering from health problems before a disaster hit.
At a Heart to Heart International clinic in Guánica, Puerto Rico, medical volunteers treated a woman whose course of chemotherapy for breast cancer had been interrupted when Hurricane Maria hit the island. The damage to the health system and roads out of her town made traveling to receive care almost impossible, so HHI brought help to her town.
That’s what we do. Heart to Heart International continues caring for people, like this woman, who needed help even after the initial wave of disaster response had passed. The dangers for these people do not disappear after a few weeks. And, neither do we.
October 30th – We spent a long time in the mountains of Utuado on Sunday getting to people who were cutoff from the world for weeks. Along with a group from San Juan who delivered food, water filters and diapers, Heart to Heart International doctors saw patients throughout six barrios and gave out many hygiene kits. Some residents had lost their houses and were living with neighbors or relatives. Roads are still very precarious in many places.
Oct. 28, 2017 – Walking house to house in Rio Prieto, our medical team discovered many elderly patients who needed care, including a 100-yr old woman.
It’s hard to describe how caring Heart to Heart International’s medical team from Haiti is. Three docs saw over 100 patients today in Pellejas, a small town between Adjuntas and Utuado. The people were so appreciative of the free medical care provided them. The needs in this area are enormous.
Oct. 24, 2017 – We arrived in Pellejas, an isolated town north of Adjuntas, and found dozens of people waiting inside and out of the community building to see our medical team and receive medicines as needed. Our food and hygiene kit distribution were also big hits. Many families with babies and young children were able to see one of three doctors. A great day with over 100 people treated.
Heart to Heart International was able to deliver more than 300 pounds of desperately needed medications to San Jorge Children’s Hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Thank you to Children’s Mercy Hospital Kansas for donating almost all of the medications! We are proud to work with amazing partners like Children’s Mercy to deliver critical aid to these youngest victims of Hurricane Maria.
Sophie Murdock, RN from Santa Barbara CA, performed triage at the Heart to Heart International clinic in Camerio on Tuesday. Patients, now homeless from Hurricane Maria, spanned the very young to the very old. People waited patiently for their turn, and we didn’t get to everyone on Tuesday, so back there again today!
Dr. Mike Paterson, fluent in Spanish, was asked by social services in Camerio, Puerto Rico to check on several elderly patients in their homes. He found this cancer patient needing attention including several medications that Heart to Heart International provided. Later he treated cardiac patients in their homes who were having difficulty in the very hot conditions. We are finding that stress is very high in the elderly, and a med student from Caguas assisted Mike by talking with and comforting the patients. They both went right back to see many more patients on Wednesday!
Jason Kimm (from Kansas City) treated this 2-yr old girl (Adriana) and many other victims of hurricane Maria at a shelter in Camerio, Puerto Rico on Tuesday. The team is back again today…the needs are great in this area and Heart to Heart International is the only mobile medical team there.
On Monday, October 2nd, Heart to Heart International delivered a 44,500-pound shipment of supplies, food and humanitarian aid to the victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Volunteers from the community helped unload half of the truck in Levittown, a town just outside San Juan.
The remaining aid and supplies were distributed over the next two days to people in 11 other towns throughout the island. The shipment included hygiene kits from HHI, water filtration kits from Nazarene Compassionate Ministries and meals from Convoy of Hope.
Help us continue to help the people of Puerto Rico