MINNEAPOLIS ---- A group of 5 Minnesotans with medical backgrounds embarked on a one week mission to Puerto Rico in October.
Over a month after Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on the island of 3.4 million people, most people still do not have electricity. Access to clean water is another hurdle in many areas. Communication is spotty in some cities and non-existent in others.
The group, led by Dr. Miguel Fiol, a neurologist at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, were able to distribute 300 pounds of medical equipment and medication, like insulin, antibiotics, and drugs to treat hypertension.
Thanks to a crowdfund through the University of Minnesota Foundation, the group was able to raise $14,000 to help pay for the much-needed medical supplies and transportation.
"It was very overwhelming," said Dr. Fiol. " I can't say enough about all the Minnesotans who are concerned and who have helped."
Over a week, the group traveled to inland cities in Puerto Rico that are hard to reach.
"Some of the patients were bedbound and harder basically to transport to any facility," said Carla Velez, a native Puerto Rican and a nurse at Fairfew Southdale Hospital in Edina. "We did a lot of housecalls."
"There were lots of people that are in need of basic things that I feel like we take for granted - clean water, electricity," added Velez. "It's sad. But I also saw a lot of positive things. A lot of the neighbors, a lot of the community helping each other."
It is Dr. Fiol's second time in Puertro Rico since Hurricane Maria hit.
"There is improvement in the San Juan area, but I think, inland, it's still pretty raw out there," described Dr. Fiol. "We visited a lot of people with chronic illnesses that have exacerbated now with the crisis."
Dr. Fiol is worried that there is another crisis in the horizon for Puerto Rico - a mental health crisis.
"There is a lot of stress," described Dr. Fiol. "I sit there and I shudder to think that some of that stress could become violence."
The group is back in the Twin Cities, but their work isn't over. They're considering sending a group of mental health specialists to the island.
"Like they say in Puerto Rico, 'yo no me quito.' It means, 'I don't remove myself. ' We are engaged," said Dr. Fiol.
If you wish to help the next relief mission trip to Puerto Rico, you can donate to El Fondo Boricua.
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