3,000 tejidos y muestras de más de 1,000 pacientes boricuas con cáncer fueron rescatados por Ponce Health Sciences University, en alianza con el Moffitt Cancer Center en Tampa, Florida, tras el paso del huracán María debido a la inestabilidad del sistema eléctrico del país. Este material biológico debe ser preservado a -321 grados Fahrenheit, temperatura que no se puede asegurar debido a la actual situación de la infraestructura eléctrica.
La mayoría son donaciones de mujeres con cáncer de seno y de ovario, así como boricuas que batallaron contra el cáncer de colon, pulmón, tiroides y próstata.
Con esto, el Puerto Rico BioBank de la Ponce Health Sciences University aseguró que se pueda seguir estudiando cómo el cáncer afecta específicamente a los latinos y desarrollar tratamientos personalizados para los boricuas.
Los investigadores esperan que algunos de los tejidos regresen a Puerto Rico y que otros se utilicen en laboratorios alrededor del mundo.
Salvan tejidos para el estudio del cáncer tras los apagones de luz
Mucho se ha hablado del trabajo que las comunidades y las empresas han hecho para ayudar a los afectados por el Huracán María. Lo que han logrado, sin duda, ha sido admirable.
Sin embargo, es poco lo que se dicho acerca de cómo este evento ha trastocado la salud mental y emocional de miles de puertorriqueños.
Para tener un panorama más claro de cómo ciertas comunidades en el área Suroeste manejan la nueva realidad del país, Ponce Health Sciences University (PHSU) implementó un plan de misiones diarias a diferentes municipios para proveer servicios médicos básicos y psicológicos. Gracias a este esfuerzo, que estuvo liderado por la Dr. Juliette Rivera del Wellness Center de PHSU, varios grupos de doctores, psicólogos y estudiantes, han impactado más de 15 comunidades. El vídeo que verás a continuación es el recuento de una de estas visitas.
On October 25, 2017, the Public Health Intervention teams that consisted of Public Health Students and faculty conducted an educational activity that was carried out in the community of Apiaderos in the municipality of Villalba. The intervention consisted in providing information related to general preventive measures in Public Health such as water management and disinfection, personal hygiene, hand washing, proper handling of food and vector control in their homes and surrounding areas. In addition, people was oriented about the handling and use of the filter directed for the purification of the water. At the end of the educational activity, essential items were provided along with the educational material.
In the course of the visits to the community, waters samples were taken from areas of water consumption used by the residents of Apiaderos. These samples will provide an estimate of the quality of water that is consumed. Once the processing of samples of the water was completed, water filter systems were given to leaders of the community that were accessible for the delivery of the water to the rest of the residents. Each of the leaders were trained about the proper use and maintenance of the filters. Here are some images of what happened.
Five days after Huricane María, mission teams from Ponce Health Sciences University started offering mental health services to the worst-hit communities in Puerto Rico. Thankfully with the dedication of these volunteers we have been able to impact communities in Ponce, Jayuya, Adjuntas, Jayuya, Guayanilla and Utuado. With the help and dedication of all who have participated from these efforts, the number of communities and people impacted will continue growing.
On Tuesday, October 10th, a team of doctors, students and PHSU staff visited the town of Jayuya where they gave medical care to over 60 people. On this trip they also visited a remote community called Tetuán I, II and III located between Jayuya and Utuado. This community composed of about 150 families had been completely cut off as their bridges were washed away. The PHSU team was the first medical aid that this village had received.
By Tracy McManus for Tampa Bay Times
October 11, 2017 9:08pm
PONCE, Puerto Rico —While Hurricane Maria’s 155 mph winds were rushing over Dr. Jaime Matta’s coffee farm in the mountains Sept. 20, his thoughts raced to the precious vials of cancerous tissue in his lab at Ponce Health Sciences University.
A decade’s worth of study hinged on the precisely negative 150 degree Celsius coolers maintaining their temperature. Once the storm passed, there was no way he would trust the generators while the island dealt with a catastrophic recovery and weeks without power.
“I was praying for the tissues,” Matta said. “They are irreplaceable.”
He and two dozen other researchers have spent years studying these samples from cancer patients, building a one-of-a-kind bank to analyze health disparities in Hispanic patients, in partnership with scientists at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.
As soon as Maria passed, Matta was determined to evacuate the 3,000 samples to the Moffitt sister lab for safe keeping.
But first, he needed to somehow find a jet to get them there.
• • •
State Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, returned last week from a one-day trip to survey Ponce. In disbelief from the devastation, she began planning ways to get supplies back.
She started by asking the Tampa Bay Rays if they could help pay for a barge to deliver water, medical supplies and food to residents in rural areas still waiting for aid. Rays senior director of public affairs Rafaela Amador Fink said she wanted to do better than that.
The team has players and staffers with deep community connections to the island. Amador Fink said they started working on finding a plane to charter for what would become a humanitarian relief mission.
Cruz called a contact she made during her Oct. 2 visit. Alex Ruiz, chief strategic officer at Ponce Health Sciences University, was already coordinating relief flights through the Ponce airport. If the Rays could charter a jet, Cruz and Ruiz would work out the logistics.
Wheels went up on the Boeing 737 around 9 a.m. Wednesday from Signature Flight Support at Tampa International Airport. Stowed in the belly were 11 generators and more than 22,000 pounds of medical supplies, water and other rations from Tampa-based Course of Action Foundation. Also on board were four, mushroom-shaped CryoShipper vapor containers, en route to Matta’s lab.
• • •
As of Wednesday, 21 days after Maria’s landfall, nearly 90 percent of the U.S. territory was still without power. Entire villages are still inaccessible. Neighborhoods are without running water.
Aid being delivered to ports in large cities like San Juan in northern Puerto Rico is not filtering to central and southern cities, such as Ponce, locals here say.
“There’s cargo stacked in San Juan with no way to get it here,” said George Shipley, vice president of marketing for Ponce Health Sciences University. “For lots of people on the island, people hear on the radio that FEMA is here, but they still haven’t seen it themselves.”
At the Ponce University outpatient medical clinic, running on limited power from generators, a line of a dozen patients waited outside for medicine and psychiatric treatment, some coming because prescriptions have run out and they have no other way to fill them.
Daisy La Boy, 51, unable to work because of a heart condition, had been without her high blood pressure pills since Maria hit.
“I’m very worried,” La Boy said. “This has been a nightmare.”
Karen Torres Echevarria, 46, said she had been missing days at her job with the Department of Education to care for her mother, Marta Echevarria, who has complications from bipolar disorder. She waited in the clinic lobby in tears, having been told by her boss not to come back to work after taking the day to fill Marta’s prescription, she said.
While crews unloaded the supplies from the Rays jet, to be dispersed at various hospitals and neighborhoods, Ponce Mayor María Meléndez Altieri took Cruz and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman to a local shelter.
Cruz said conditions were better than she saw a week ago. Lines for gas were 45 minutes instead of 12 hours.
But desperation is still rampant.
“These folks need help,” Kriseman said. “If somebody tells you supplies are getting there, they’re not.”
While touring the school building-turned shelter, Cruz met a woman who had been wearing the same T-shirt since the day Maria hit. Three entire weeks.
The woman looked down at her dirty feet, exposed from wearing flip-flops every day.
Cruz knelt down and started untying her own blue Nikes. She slipped off her socks. She insisted the woman trade shoes with her. Once they swapped, they had a tearful embrace.
• • •
In rural hospitals and neighborhoods, diabetics are going without insulin, baby formula is running low and pharmacies are nearly empty. Two doctors from the University of South Florida spent the past week surveying the rural areas and creating a list of critical items needed immediately.
“Patients are in hospitals with no supplies,” said USF internal medicine assistant professor Asa Oxner. “Aid groups are coming in but are focusing on big urban centers first because that’s where the big population is but that’s leaving out rural areas.”
USF director of safety and preparedness Donald Mullins flew on the Rays jet with 1,500 pounds of insulin, IV supplies, baby formula and other needs to be distributed until they can make a return trip with more.
Oxner and her colleague, USF internal medicine assistant professor Elimarys Perez-Colon, returned with Mullins on Wednesday to regroup and plan the next relief mission. There were more new faces joining them for the return flight.
• • •
A Moffitt doctor and two nurses traveled to Ponce to retrieve two Puerto Rican cancer patients and bring them to Tampa for treatment.
“Puerto Rico was desolation, desperation, no hygiene, no water,” said Esteban Ocasio. He accompanied his 80-year-old mother, whose chemotherapy treatment was stopped by the hurricane, to Tampa.
The plane was in the air for the return flight less than three hours after it arrived.
A handful of relatives of Rays staff also caught a flight back to Florida. Rays director of scouting Carlos Rodriguez retrieved his grandmother, who was without running water since the storm hit, taking baths with a bucket and using rainwater to flush the toilet.
Rays pitcher Xavier Cedeno took the jet to Ponce with his wife, sister-in-law and English bulldog, but stayed on the island to help recovery efforts for the next three months in his hometown of Guayanilla.
Before the plane departed for Tampa, Cruz called out to check on one last thing.
“Are the mushrooms safe?” she said, referring to the tissue containers. “That’s all I want to know.”
They were stowed in the plane’s belly and greeted at the Tampa airport by Matta’s research colleagues.
Contact Tracey McManus at email@example.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.
One man who lives in Puerto Rico is proving the power of networking can go a long way when it comes to helping those in need.
Alex Ruiz was making his way home to Ponce, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 19 when his flight out of Panama was canceled due to Hurricane Maria.
The 34-year-old, who was born in Bronx, New York, to hard-working Puerto Rican parents, is the Chief Strategy Officer of Ponce Health Sciences University. He had been traveling throughout South America for work and was eager to get back to his friends, employees and his younger brother, Emil Ruiz, 31, before the storm made landfall.
“I knew I was going to be stranded, but I didn’t know for how long,” Ruiz tells PEOPLE. “Then the next day, Maria hit and that was the last time I had contact with my brother and over 600 of our employees and 1,000 students.”
Ruiz, who moved to Ponce in May 2015 to work for the private, for-profit university, says he felt helpless in his hotel room in Panama as he watched the horror of the storm unfold on TV.
“The first thing I did was just cry. I was watching the news and I couldn’t get in touch with my brother. My mom in New York was asking what was happening — we have a close-knit family,” he says. “I couldn’t watch the news anymore, it was the most depressing thing I had ever seen.”
So he turned that feeling of helplessness into action, immediately calling on as many contacts and connections as he could.
“I believe your network is extremely influential, so I started making calls and getting assistance from friends,” he says. “First, I started calling wealthy friends I knew asking if I could get a private jet.”
When those logistics didn’t pan out, he started networking and eventually got through to San Juan, reaching someone at the Governor’s Office who was leading donations. Then he got a call from Warren Ross, president of the University of Medicine and Health Sciences, St. Kitts, who told him he could get a plane filled with doctors out of Chicago if Ruiz could help get it into Ponce.
Ruiz immediately replied: “Of course, give me 48 hours!”
From there, he got on the phone with Cathy Peng from Johns Hopkins University, who was able to check the status of a nearby airport in Ponce, where she is based.
“I told her I had a plane with four doctors on it, and she found out that we could land it at Mercedita Airport in Ponce,” Ruiz says.
The first plane landed last week and the doctors set out into the community to provide necessary aid.
“The close-knit community of Ponce became the catalyst for all these things getting into motion,” Ruiz says of the community effort he has experienced in the aftermath of the storm.
When Ruiz was finally able to get in touch with his university via a landline, he got to hear his brother’s voice for the first time in eight days.
“I knew he was going to be okay, but it was so good to hear his voice,” Ruiz says.
Then he got in contact with the Hispanic Federation in New York, who worked with the Florida DNC to organize two planes to fly out of Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday. A group of eight Florida Democratic state lawmakers wanted to see firsthand what the island was going through and deliver aid, and Ruiz said he could make a flight into Ponce happen — only this time he asked if he could have a seat on the plane, too.
“I went to Walmart and tried to pack a lot of provisions for my brother and for a very special 4-year-old named Camila on the island. Kenira Thompson, the president of Ponce Research Institute, has a young daughter and she asked me to bring her chocolate milk. So I brought her chocolate milk and animal cookies in a floral backpack!” Ruiz says.
When the plane landed, they were greeted by Ponce Mayor Mayita Meléndez.
“The mayor comes out and starts running towards us and says, ‘Thank you for everything. We need all the help we can get because I have nothing.’ ”
“The politicians were then able to go to more remote areas and see the devastation,” Ruiz adds. “They saw a lot of hurt on the island and have since moved into action.”
As for Ruiz, he went straight to the university, where he saw the damage that had been done to the school, including a brand new $1.3 million neuroscience lab that had been destroyed in the storm.
“I knew that things were going to be difficult, but I was heartbroken,” Ruiz says.
Ruiz decided he could have more of an impact organizing efforts out of Florida, so he is now stationed in Miami, where he is working on getting other planes with aid and resources into Ponce.
And the planes are not only bringing resources in, they are taking people in need out. Five Puerto Ricans with health problems, including a man who had just had triple bypass surgery and another heart patient, all traveled back to Fort Lauderdale with Ruiz on Tuesday.
“I know I can be more effective stateside,” Ruiz says. “But I want to get back there as soon as possible. I’m just here to help an island I love that has been very good to me.”
He adds: “I want to get the word out there because Puerto Rico is in trouble.”