On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico and made history as one of the strongest storms on record, devastating the island. Now, one year later, the medical mission team from UnityPoint Health – Pekin is preparing to bring care, supplies and compassion to a community still picking up the pieces.
“This is our sixth year doing medical missions,” Cindy Justus, nurse manager and mission trip coordinator, says. “We’ve been to Nicaragua, Guatemala and other countries, but this trip is unique in that the restoration of infrastructure from hurricane damage is still ongoing.”
The team, which consists of approximately 30 doctors, nurses and support staff, will serve in Puerto Rico from October 4-13, providing free medical clinics and basic medical care. In five days, the team will see as many patients as possible, ranging anywhere from 1,500-2,300 people.
“The medical clinics we host are so important to these communities. Some residents have never seen a doctor before, and this might be the only time they do in their lives. With a disaster area, water quality becomes a large concern, which is how illness starting creeping in. There’s a big need, and that’s what we’re trying to address,” Justus says.
The team will take anywhere from 60-70 suitcases, containing dressing supplies, instruments for minor procedures and personal medications that can be sustained, such as vitamins, over-the-counter pain relievers, antibiotics and anti-parasite medications. In addition, they’ll take eye glasses donated by a local optometrist, clothing, school supplies and baby items, including formula. Every resident that visits the medical clinic will also receive a bag of toiletries with a toothbrush, soap, shampoo and more.
“Not only is the care component so needed, but the human aspect is as well. It can be as small as holding someone’s hand while caring specifically for them. It’s what inspires hope,” Justus says.
Justus knows how powerful this work is for the team, too. Personally, she’s been a part of 13 medical missions to Haiti, and this trip to Puerto Rico will be her 22nd medical mission. She says it’s where her heart is.
“Serving in this way impacts team members for a lifetime. You spend eight to 10 days serving alongside people you might not have known otherwise. It really is a catalyst to lifelong friendships, and the whole group comes back with so much,” Justus says.
Medical missions are more than just helping a cause and a country, it’s showing people how much they matter.
“Our organization sees health care as so much bigger than what we are. This work embodies the passion we have and shows an investment in our mission – improving the health of the people and communities we serve. Even if that’s somewhere else in the world.”