Heartbroken and frustrated. That’s how Eduardo Medina, MD, MPH, felt as he watched Hurricane Maria bear down on Puerto Rico. Then, he watched the response. Most of the island was left without water, electricity and any way to communicate.

“It was devastating to see so many people suffering,” said Dr. Medina, a family medicine physician at our Park Nicollet Clinic in Minneapolis. “As Puerto Ricans, we feel a strong affinity to the island.”

Dr. Medina’s grandmother moved from the island as a young woman. He was born and raised in New York City.

“The Puerto Rican community in New York City is very strong. I was raised surrounded by my family and community learning about the rich history and traditions of Puerto Rico,” he said.

As a child, Dr. Medina visited Puerto Rico frequently. It had been several years since his last visit. Then, the hurricane hit.

Another Minnesota doctor, Dr. Miguel Fiol, was in Puerto Rico at the time. Because of the significant devastation, Dr. Fiol soon realized medical teams on the island would need more help. He turned to the Puerto Rican medical community in Minnesota.

“There was no doubt in my mind I had to help,” Dr. Medina said.

He and his team at Park Nicollet quickly got to work. Administrative staff rescheduled appointments. His colleagues covered his OB calls. And department heads provided support and guidance as Dr. Medina prepared to head to Puerto Rico to provide relief.

The pharmacy director at Methodist Hospital also stepped in to help. Kelly Becicka, PharmD, ordered medical supplies for Dr. Medina to take with him. These included antibiotics, insulin and asthma medication. Many community groups also helped organize and fund supplies. These partners included the Puerto Ricans in Minnesota Committee and the Minnesota Alliance of Communities for Puerto Rico.

All in all, Dr. Medina’s team helped him pack 7 large boxes of supplies to bring along.

Providing care and compassion in a disaster zone

When Dr. Medina arrived in Puerto Rico alongside a team of four other health providers from Minnesota, they first got in contact with local officials. Then they were paired with community health workers and got to work.

Each day, they visited different areas of the island. In some towns, the team was stationed at a central location and the patients came to them. In other areas, they did house calls.

“We would see as many patients as possible each day,” Dr. Medina said. “Then we would return to San Juan, rest, and do it all again the next day.”

As they traveled across the island, Dr. Medina found it hard to see so many people without basic needs. But he says the support that people had for each other was tremendous.

“We saw families caring for chronically ill, homebound patients under extreme conditions,” Dr. Medina said. “We were all amazed to see what they were achieving with what little they had.”

The team was able to provide basic medical care. And they were able to help with some medications. Yet he says both were really part of something much bigger.

“The most important thing we did was express love and solidarity with our fellow Puerto Ricans,” Dr. Medina said. “We were there to show them they had not been forgotten. Primary care physicians strive to address the physical, mental and social well-being of our patients. In Puerto Rico, all three were severely affected by the storm. Hopefully our presence helped restore some of what had been.”

While the aid the team provided helped many, the need for running water and electricity was much greater than what they could address. In fact, more than half of Puerto Rico still remains without electricity. If you would like to help with hurricane relief for the island, you can visit elfondoboricua.org, Dr. Medina says. Or, individuals are free to contact him directly.