“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 on 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 medications, as well as no electricity, food, or water, Vazquez turned to colleagues at Yale.
“I contacted the Department of Pediatrics, I contacted my chair, 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.’ ”
Over the past week contributions have poured in from the Yale New Haven Health System and its affiliated hospitals. United Airlines has donated a plane to ferry the medical supplies, loaded on 15 pallets, to the island on Thursday morning, Vazquez said. Once there, the supplies are bound for the Hospital Pediatrico at the University of Puerto Rico and the Hospital Municipal in San Juan. Vazquez hopes that some of the materials will find their way to outlying hospitals, but outside the capital, San Juan, roads are still blocked.
“As far as I know,” Vazquez said, “Yale is the first medical center to send supplies. It is great that we are the first medical center to send relief, but other medical centers and hospitals should do the same. If they need help with how to do it, I will help them. It’s just a matter of reaching out and asking for help.”