Puerto Rico has been crippled since Hurricane Maria slammed into the island. Some people were left homeless by the storm. Others searched in vain for a pharmacy or primary care practitioner’s office still in operation. Stony Brook Medicine staff helped these people in need, as part of a 78-member relief team from hospitals around the New York metropolitan area.
The Stony Brook group – three physicians, two nurse practitioners, nine nurses, four paramedics, four nursing assistants and one pharmacist – split up after arriving in Puerto Rico. Most were stationed in the city of Manatí, while the rest went to the city of Fajardo and then on to the U.S. Navy’s hospital ship USNS Comfort. They worked closely with military personnel, federal agencies and the people of Puerto Rico.
“We saw well over 2,000 patients just in the time we were there,” said team medical director and emergency medicine specialist Rolando Valenzuela, MD, addressing the returning volunteers as they decompressed in the hospital lobby. “All of those people got care because of what you did.”
Pediatric trauma surgeon Richard Scriven, MD said the team treated patients with diarrhea, conjunctivitis, abscesses, severe cuts and broken bones. Urgent care and critically ill patients were also seen aboard the USNS Comfort and in Manatí, where patients with the most urgent conditions were eventually transported to a local hospital by the U.S. Army.
Stony Brook practitioners gave much-needed relief to Puerto Rican healthcare professionals, who have been working hard since the hurricane hit.
Stony Brook and Puerto Rico connected in many ways on the trip. With a guitar that somehow survived the storm, a man named Santos sang his thanks (in English and Spanish) to those who traveled “to help our beloved Puerto Rico.” Back home on Long Island, team leader Trevor Marshall, MD, held up his phone and played the haunting melody and emotional lyrics for all to hear.
Dr. Valenzuela recalled the local people who came to volunteer and “just showed up, day after day, to help care for their community.” Dr. Scriven spoke of the resilience and good humor found everywhere in Puerto Rico. “People are living through horrendous adversity,” he said. “But they were so friendly, and funny, and so appreciative. One guy had a bad burn and he came back later with a pizza for us.”
Stony Brook made sure to help those in need every way they could. After all, isn’t that what the holiday spirit is all about?
Sarah Petrak is a student assistant with the Office of Communications and New Media for SUNY System Administration. She is a studying Public Policy at the University at Albany.