“I’m sorry, I need to send this,” said Marietta Vazquez, M.D., HS ’97, FW ’01, associate professor of pediatrics, as she looked at a message on her cell phone. She was standing in a warehouse on Howard Avenue on Tuesday morning, arranging to ship 15,000 pounds of antibiotics, sutures, gauze, surgical kits, syringes, medications, and other medical supplies to Puerto Rico. Her phone never stopped ringing and she rarely took her eyes away from the phone as she scanned her messages.
After Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico on September 20, Vazquez first ascertained that her family in the outskirts of San Juan was safe. Then she thought about her medical colleagues there.
“I started thinking of ways that we could help,” she said. “I started reaching out to physicians that I know in the island. It took days to make contact because there was no cell phone service. Little by little they contacted me. I started hearing about the situation, which really has gotten worse. This is a huge problem that is not going to go away.”
After hearing her colleagues describe dwindling supplies of medications, as well as no electricity, food, or water, Vazquez turned to colleagues at Yale.
“I contacted the Department of Pediatrics, I contacted my chairman, Yale New Haven Hospital, Children’s Hospital, and our neighboring hospital, the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center,” she said. “What started as a one-woman show turned into a community effort. I reached out to others. This is not my work, this is the work of colleagues, friends, administrators, medical students … a number of people who have reached out and said ‘How can I help you? What can I do?’ We want to tell other hospital and medical centers across the 50 states, ‘Find out what they need.’ ”In the weeks since Hurricane Maria made landfall, contributions have poured in from the Yale New Haven Health System, affiliated and unaffiliated hospitals, and private practices—over 100,000 lbs of humanitarian assistance, Vazquez said. Once there, the supplies make their way to hospitals throughout Puerto Rico, though outside San Juan, logistics remains challenging. And waning media attention has compounded the challenge of supplying Puerto Rico’s devastated health care providers.
“Although we continue to be a small team of Yale doctors, students and volunteers we have accomplished many tasks,” Vazquez said. “The need unfortunately continues and as time goes by, awareness and donations decrease.”
For further information about contributing or volunteering, contact Dr. Vazquez at firstname.lastname@example.org.