Hope & Healing: The UF Health Blog

In All Kinds of Weather

UF Medical Students Take Resources to Puerto Rico

Josh Pickering, a UF senior biochemistry major, and Brandon Burns, a fourth-year medical student in the UF College of Medicine, traveled to Puerto Rico the week of October 16 to help survivors of Hurricane Maria by taking along essential supplies, including water filters. So far, it’s been a harrowing experience.

“Driving at night is extremely dangerous,’’ Pickering said, adding that many roads are clear but traffic lights are out because of the nearly islandwide power outage. “We have to avoid potholes and debris and watch out for power lines hanging in the road. It is especially difficult in the more remote regions.’’

The duo collected 200 personal water filtration systems, medicine, and equipment for road and debris clearance and delivered them to various locations on the island.

“We were at an emergency hospital in Arecibo that was set up in a sports arena. The hospital is now without running water and has to wait for it to come back online,” Pickering said.

“The tourist areas seem to be pumping the most money into repair, and should be online soonest,’’ he said. “The people that will take the hardest hit will be the poorest individuals in the mountains where it is difficult to reach. We brought everything we could carry — and then some.”

Sending Relief to Stricken Island

Since Sept. 20, when Hurricane Maria roared across Puerto Rico as a Category 4 monster, Luis M. Colon-Perez, Ph.D., has been unable to communicate with his family on the devastated island. Colon-Perez, a member of the psychiatry department in the UF College of Medicine, comes from Utuado, in the central mountains of Puerto Rico and said he felt compelled to do something to help those struggling with Maria’s aftermath. With help from colleagues and his wife, Yarelis Soto Gonzales, a UF psychiatry resident, Colon-Perez has organized two large collections of donated items that he has taken to Orlando to be shipped to Puerto Rico.
The first collection, on Sept. 23, included items donated by colleagues in the psychiatry department as well as friends in the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida and at the Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center. A second, larger collection included items from boxes set up at various locations.

“I felt this was a good way to keep me from thinking about all the bad stuff,’’ Colon-Perez said.

Diabetic supplies for Harvey and Irma victims gathered by UF Health researcher’s non-profit group

A Gainesville nonprofit group led by a University of Florida Health diabetes researcher and his wife shipped $1 million worth of insulin and diabetic supplies to Texas to aid those impacted by victims of Hurricane Harvey. After Hurricane Irma passed through, they quickly regrouped to again access, mobilize, ship and distribute additional supplies to those in need.

Mark Atkinson, Ph.D., director of the UF Diabetes Institute, a professor in the UF College of Medicine’s departments of pathology and pediatrics and president of Insulin for Life USA, founded the group with his wife in 2012. Insulin for Life USA typically gathers unused diabetic supplies and dispatches them to needy patients around the world. Hurricane Harvey and Irma created an instant need closer to home. Last year, the group, composed of UF College of Pharmacy students, distributed more than $3 million of diabetic supplies to people who need them.

Insulin for Life is accepting all types of diabetes-related donations – in-date, unneeded insulin vials, pens and cartridges; glucagon; A1C test kits; glucose meters and strips, syringes and other supplies. Cash donations, which help with shipping expenses and allow the supplies to be distributed free to needy people, are also welcomed. Volunteers who can help sort and package supplies may also be needed as more supplies get donated, Atkinson said. For more information or for information about donating, go to http://ifl-usa.org/ or call 352-327-8649 or email Carol@ifl-usa.org

Shelter from the Storm

Carlyn Ellison, a master’s in public health student in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, had just signed up as an American Red Cross volunteer when news hit that Hurricane Irma was making a beeline for Florida.

After some hurried emergency training, Ellison got her first volunteer assignment the night before the storm hit northern Florida: staffing a shelter in Gilchrist County, Alachua County’s neighbor to the west. Ellison set up the shelter’s registration station and registered more than 250 evacuees during a 12-hour shift.

One of the challenges Ellison faced was communicating with Spanish-speaking families at the shelter, but she found some bilingual teens to help translate all announcements.

“In those instances, we, as public health professionals, have to be ready to make the best out of the situation.”

UF played key role in Hurricane Irma relief

As Hurricane Irma approached Florida the first week in September, different groups within the UF College of Veterinary Medicine rallied to aid pet owners, veterinarians and animals of many species throughout the state.

The UF Veterinary Hospital provided continual 24/7 emergency services before, during and immediately after Hurricane Irma to pets, horses and wildlife, serving as a valuable patient care resource in light of closures of nearly every other veterinary specialty and emergency hospital in the state.

In addition, the UF Veterinary Emergency Treatment Service, the college’s disaster response and technical rescue team carried out several different missions relating to the storm. As Hurricane Irma approached on Sept. 9, the UF VETS team traveled to Bushnell and picked up 100 dog crates for delivery to Alachua County Animal Services’ operations to support pet-friendly shelters in the area. The team also investigated complaints of abandoned horses in Ocala. After the hurricane came through, the team coordinated an ambitious rescue of five horses stranded in floodwaters in High Springs.

UF’s Shelter Medicine group helped support the Alachua County Humane Society’s efforts to move animals out of shelters in harm’s way, and assisted in distributing donated vaccines and medications for 800 animals to the Humane Society, and delivered supplies to shelters in Taylor and Suwanee counties so they could care for animals arriving after the storm. The team contacted each of Florida’s 155 animal shelters to ensure they were getting the help they needed.

Members of the UF Aquatic Animal Health team were also vital to recovery as they assisted with three separate calls to rescue several displaced manatees found in different bodies of water.

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