Report from Puerto Rico: You can help

October 08, 2017

by Michael Rivera Rios

It is currently Day 14 after Hurricane Maria; I consider myself among the fortunate ones. I decided to spend the storm in my apartment, near my medical school where I felt safe and secure. Sadly this meant being away from my family in Lares. Two days after the hurricane, communication within the island was still nonexistent. I was under constant anxiety because although I knew my family had a safe home, I needed confirmation that they were well. Since no improvement on telephone communication was made, I decided to take action. I drove back home for an hour and a half to see my family. Luckily, I found them well and their property suffered no major damage. Not everyone living in this island was as fortunate.  The crisis is real; the lack of power and communications continues, and people are without access to food, drinkable water, gas, medicine and proper health care. Although the gas situation in San Juan has normalized, towns outside the metropolitan area still have lines that last hours or no gas stations are found for miles.The communication I have with my mother is through text messages that she sends by driving about 25 minutes to the highway, where she and others are able to get phone service. Today I received a text from her saying that she and my grandparents need water, since she has not been able to find any in my hometown.Tomorrow I’m traveling there to bring her some water from my apartment in San Juan. Roughly 55 percent of the island continues without running water and 92 percent without power.

It is heartbreaking that part of the aftermath is having deaths related to medical issues because of the lack of power, diesel for hospital generators and access to medications. Oxygen tanks are depleting and patients are not able to call their oxygen companies for refills. Some people are in remote areas that are difficult to access due to landslides, debris, or collapsed roads. Renal patients cannot reach their nearest dialysis center because they are closed or sustained heavy damage. We also keep hearing of diabetic patients that are running out of insulin or are not able to store it properly. These are just some of the time-sensitive issues that we are facing at this moment that could have been prevented. I can’t speak about the other members of our AMSA chapter, but in my 2019 class, we have found out about almost every student. I do know there are students that lost everything in their homes to Hurricane Maria. The school and the Association of American Medical Colleges are making sure they know our needs and status. We continue with our rotations next Monday and some of us are currently volunteering at the Puerto Rico Medical Center.

Our island needs help. You can find a list of potential organizations you can donate to here. Our local Pediatric Hospital Foundation is also receiving donations to aid the patients at the main Puerto Rico Pediatric University Hospital. You can donate or message the foundation here. I also encourage everyone to call your local representatives and push for more urgency in aiding Puerto Rico. The AMSA family around the world has the power to make a difference and help spread the word.

Michael Rivera Rios is a third-year medical student at the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine and a former chapter president.