During Hurricane Harvey, Dr. Maria Belalcazar saw firsthand how a natural disaster can devastate a community. So when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September, leaving residents without power and running water—and hospitals without supplies—she wanted to do whatever she could to help.
During Harvey, Belalcazar and her family were literally inches away from being flooded out of their home.
“My neighbors and many friends were not so lucky,” said Belalcazar, associate professor of internal medicine and director of UTMB’s inpatient diabetes programs.
As soon as the water receded, like many in the UTMB community, she began helping friends and family remove damaged furniture, soggy carpets and wet Sheetrock from their homes. Less than two weeks later, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.
“We were right in the middle of our community’s own recovery effort when Hurricane Maria hit,” Belalcazar said. “I was so alarmed to hear about all of the devastation that occurred. Puerto Rico was totally isolated, had poor communication, no water, no power—and hospitals were running out of supplies.”
Belalcazar reached out to a friend and former UTMB faculty member from Puerto Rico and asked her how best she could help.
“She was the one who made me aware of a pediatric hospital in San Juan and how a group here in Texas was organizing efforts to get supplies to them,” Belalcazar said. “I thought, ‘I’m sure if I share this request with our leadership that we as a UTMB family can come together to make a difference—and that’s exactly what happened.”
Belalcazar connected with Texas United for Puerto Rico, a grassroots organization that has been collecting supplies to take to island. Currently, the organization has two warehouses in Houston with nearly half a million pounds of supplies.
It wasn’t just one person from UTMB who helped get the supply donation together. First, Frank Reighard, associate vice president of supply chain management, was contacted by Dr. David Marshall, chief nursing and patient services officer, after Belalcazar reached out to him.
“Once we received confirmation from the President’s Office that Dr. Callender approved the $10,000 donation of supplies, I reached out to Ricky Flores, who got me in touch with Karina Iglesias at the Puerto Rico Pediatric Hospital who reviewed with the hospital surgeons to prioritize their supply needs,” Reighard said.
The Puerto Rico hospital then sent back a “priority wish list” that StJohn Sturton and Rachael Haring, both from Supply Chain Logistics, coordinated and filled within the donation limit. In total, UTMB donated $10,000 worth of pediatric neurological supplies to the cause.
“We have been able to reach 20 municipalities across the island to disperse help,” said Dr. Patricia Maeso, an otolaryngologist and member of Texas United for Puerto Rico who picked up the donated supplies from UTMB’s Galveston Campus.
The supplies collected are being sent out every week, Belalcazar said. UTMB’s donation will be sent directly to the pediatric hospital in San Juan.
“I think this really represents who we are at UTMB,” she said.