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UM Pediatric Team Delivers Supplies and Support to Puerto Rico’s Physicians

A six-person pediatric team from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine traveled to Puerto Rico on October 10 to provide firsthand support for their colleagues in San Juan and two rural impoverished communities still devastated by Hurricane Maria.

Before the return to Miami, from left, Melvin Bonilla, M.D., chair of pediatrics at University Pediatric Hospital in Puerto Rico, Delia Rivera Hernandez, M.D., assistant professor of clinical pediatrics, Alan Bass, pilot, Cindy Calderon, M.D., vice president of the PR Chapter of the American Academy of Puerto Rico and consultant for the Maternal, Child, Adolescent Health Bureau of Puerto Rico, Judy Schaechter, M.D., M.B.A., chair of pediatrics and chief of service at Holtz Children’s Hospital, Roberto Perez Roman, M.D., neurosurgery resident, Tania Fontanez-Nieves, M.D., assistant professor of clinical pediatrics, and Maria Gaby Balsa-Guerrero, M.D., and Mora Puertolas-Lopez, M.D., both pediatric residents.

“Our purpose was to bring badly needed medical supplies, assess the situation and let Puerto Rico’s pediatric community know we will continue to support them throughout the recovery – no matter how long that takes,” said Judy Schaechter, M.D., professor and chair of pediatrics. “We felt they would appreciate a personal opportunity to discuss their immediate needs and how we can work together in the long-term recovery of Puerto Rico’s health care system.”

Schaechter, two other faculty members, and three residents visited University Pediatric Hospital, an affiliate of the Medical Science Campus of the University of Puerto Rico, and met with Melvin Bonilla, M.D., chair of pediatrics; Yasmin Pedrogo, M.D., president of the Puerto Rico Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Cindy Calderon, M.D., a pediatrician with San Juan’s Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health Bureau; and Aurines Torres, Ed.D., with UPR’s public health department.

“They gave us a tour of the hospital, including the neonatal intensive care unit, which had been damaged by the hurricane and had partially reopened that day,” Schaechter said. “They had also converted their conference room into a distribution center where arriving supplies were sorted and sent to outlying areas. We saw a great deal of positive spirit but there is a great need for ongoing support.”

The Miller School team, which included three professionals born in Puerto Rico, also delivered medical devices, medications, respiratory supplies, formula for healthy infants and for those on special metabolic diets, and diapers provided by the Miami Diaper Bank.

Parents with their children at the pediatric hospital.

From San Juan, the UM team traveled to Pinones and Canovanas, east and south of the capital, to provide immediate assistance to residents living in crowded shelters. “We cared for a number of patients who hadn’t had access to a pediatrician since the hurricane hit more than two weeks ago,” Schaechter said. “We also explained how to sanitize hands when no water is available. We saw cases of scabies, skin infections and abdominal pain as well. It’s very hard to stay healthy when you can’t wash clothes, drink clean water or keep mosquitoes away.”

Gathering supplies

Back in Miami, Michael Kelley, executive director of strategic operations, said the Miller School is sending a stream of medical supplies and medications to Puerto Rico by private jet so local physicians can continue treating their patients. “While more and more clinics and hospitals are coming back on line, they are still relying on generator power,” Kelley said. “The ambulatory surgery centers may not be able to reopen until the electric grid is restored.”

Due to the lack of power, Puerto Rico’s physicians and clinics are running out of perishable medications for glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetes and other conditions that require medications, said Eduardo C. Alfonso, M.D., director of Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, and professor and Kathleen and Stanley J. Glaser Chair in Ophthalmology. “Through a communications network we set up for ophthalmic care on the island, we are hearing about an increase in acute hemorrhagic conjunctivitis (pink eye), which is very contagious when people are living closely together in shelters. There has also been a sharp increase in traumatic eye injuries from flying debris, clearing streets and roads, and repairing homes and other buildings.”

Hospital workers organizing donated supplies.

The Miller School is also coordinating the shipment of about 150 pallets of donated goods provided through the efforts of Univision and Leon Medical Centers, according to Ron Bogue, assistant vice president for facilities and support services. “Our leadership team is arranging transportation to get these donations – as well as another 150 pallets of medical supplies – to Puerto Rico as soon as possible,” he said. “We are glad to support these vital relief efforts for patients on the island.”

Looking ahead, Miller School leadership, faculty and students are continuing to assess the medical and public health situation in Puerto Rico and how they might impact South Florida in the future. “We expect to see more children and families come here for care,” said Schaechter. “We want to help them make the adjustment and provide for their physical, mental and emotional well-being.”








Tags: Dr. Judy Schaechter, Hurricane Maria, pediatrics, Puerto Rico, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine