USF physicians donate supplies, treat patients in Puerto Rico

1,500 pounds of medications and supplies donated by USF Health were delivered Oct. 11 to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico on a jet chartered by Tampa Bay Rays for a humanitarian relief effort.


Video courtesy of Tampa Bay Rays

USF physicians are now in Puerto Rico donating medical supplies and treating patients severely impacted by Hurricane Maria.

Asa Oxner, MD, assistant professor of Internal Medicine at the USF Health Morsani Collge of Medicine, works without power in Puerto Rico with only the illumination from a head lamp.

Asa Oxner, MD, and Elimarys Perez-Colon, MD, both from the Department of Internal Medicine in the Morsani College of Medicine, landed in San Juan Saturday, Oct. 7. They brought along donated boxes of medications, IV bags and fluids to various hospitals including the Hospital Menonita de Caguas, which is affiliated with the San Juan Bautista Hospital and Medical School.

Drs. Oxner and Perez-Colon traveled to  rural areas to treat patients with diabetes and high blood pressure. They’ve worked in shelters where most patients had their homes destroyed in the hurricane and don’t have the means to travel to hospitals in larger cities.

Dr. Oxner (far left) and Dr. Elimarys Perez-Colon (second from left), a USF hospitalist in internal medicine and pediatrics, are welcomed by officials at Hospital Menonitas Caguas, affiliated with the San Juan Bautista Hospital and Medical School. That’s where majority of the supplies from USF have been dropped off.

On Wednesday Oct. 11, USF Health Director of Safety and Preparedness Don Mullins escorted more than 1,500 pounds of additional supplies and medications donated by USF Health — including insulin, anti-inflammatory medications, IV supplies and baby formula —  aboard a jet chartered by the Tampa Bay Rays for a humanitarian relief mission to Puerto Rico.   The charter jet took off about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday morning carrying tons of medical supplies, food and water from the Tampa-based Course of Action Foundation as well USF Health’s supplies.

Boxes of donated medications and supplies are unloaded on the tarmac in Ponce, Puerto Rico, from a jet chartered by the Tampa Bay Rays for a humanitarian relief mission. The cargo included 1,500 pounds of medications and supplies contributed by USF Health. | Photo by Don Mullins, USF Health

Don Mullins, director of safety and preparedness at USF Health, carries a case of insulin from the airport runway to vans waiting outside the airport to deliver the supplies to hospitals coordinating their distribution.  Mullins escorted USF Health’s delivery and supervised claiming and sorting the boxes. | Photo by Dr. Asa Oxner, USF Health

Dr. Perez-Colon and Dr. Oxner load a chest of refrigerated insulin into a van in Ponce, Puerto Rico. | Photo by Don Mullins, USF Health

Once the flight landed in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Mullins connected with Drs. Oxner and Perez-Colon, to unload and sort the supplies and medications so they could be allocated to outlying rural areas based on need.  The USF Health group also met with representatives from Hospital Menonitas Caguas and San Cristobal Hospitals in Villalba and Juana Diaz municipalities. The two doctors — who spent the last five days in Puerto Rico caring for patients and assessing items critically needed in the outlying rural communities including pediatric nebulizers, prescription baby formula, disposable IV tubes and sterile saline water  —  accompanied Mullins on the flight back to Tampa at 2:30 p.m. the same day.  They plan to make a return trip with more supplies later this month, joined by other doctor colleagues.

Dr. Perez-Colon sorts through the various types of insulin to be delivered for patients in hospitals, shelters and outlying communities. | Photo by Don Mullins, USF Health

A total of 12 USF physicians, all Spanish-speaking faculty members, will travel to Puerto Rico over the next two months to provide additional medical care.  Many have disaster relief experience helping local physicians and hospitals care for victims of earthquakes and disease outbreaks in other countries.

“These folks are our Navy SEALs; they’ve been in Haiti, they’ve helped with Ebola,” Charles Lockwood, MD, senior vice president for USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.  “They know what they are doing.”

Dr. Oxner packs medications and supplies at USF Health before leaving for San Juan, Puerto Rico on Oct. 14. | Photo by Sandra C. Roa, University Communications and Marketing

You can help to! Go to the USF Herd Funder site to contribute.

-Story by Tina Meketa and Anne DeLotto Baier, University Communications and Marketing