By Los Angeles Region CEO, Jarrett Barrios
Here at the Red Cross, nearly three weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, we are still working around the clock with government officials and disaster partners to help the hundreds of thousands of people suffering after these catastrophic storms.
Right now, most people on the islands are living with no power and weathering high temperatures. There is nearly no cell-phone service and many are continuing to go without adequate drinking water. Thousands of homes have been affected and millions of lives have been turned upside down.
Last week, when Brenda Marrero’s 91 year old father, a veteran who lives in Puerto Rico with his wife, was told by his medical team at the San Juan VA Hospital that they did not have the medications he needed, she knew she had to look elsewhere for help. Since her father’s medical team advised him to leave the island in order to obtain the level of care he needed to stay alive, she contacted me, because of my relationship with the American Red Cross, hoping that somehow we could help.
Brenda explained to me that her father had gone to the VA hospital in San Juan, but that they had run out of his medication. Holding back tears, she told me he had already lost 10 pounds, and that every day he seemed to be getting worse. Sadly, she explained, her attempts to get him on a flight off the island had been unsuccessful and thus, he could not get to the mainland to get the medical treatment he needed to stay alive and well.
Thankfully, with the help of our Los Angeles Region based Disaster Services Team, many of whom were already on the ground in Puerto Rico, and one our amazing partners, Jet Blue Airways, we were able to get Brenda’s father off the island and into a medical facility in Florida. Personally, it was humbling to have been able to help, and I am beyond grateful for Jet Blue’s partnership with the American Red Cross. Even more so, I am thrilled that Brenda’s father is finally getting the help that he needs.
In Brenda’s own words, “The Red Cross stepped up immediately and pulled together as a team to help a man who served our country in the U.S. Armed Forces for 33 years, a man who was already a three-time cancer survivor, and who was in urgent need of medication and medical care. The Red Cross became my Papi’s advocate, to ensure he got access to the resources he so desperately needs.”
Of course, this is just one case among many in Puerto Rico. Thankfully, this one has a happy ending— but how many others can’t get medication from their VA hospital? How many other tragedies are occurring that will never make the news? Puerto Rico needs us— all of us— to help them right now.
Officials estimate it could be as long as six months until power is fully restored on the Island, and that emergency shelters and food support will be needed for a large portion of the population for many weeks to come.
In Puerto Rico, about 460 Red Cross workers are helping to reconnect families and distribute critical relief supplies, including food and water. This includes some of the nearly 240 Red Cross workers currently deployed form the Los Angeles Region.
If you would like to help, and I urge you to do so, please text MARIA to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
Jarrett Barrios is the Chief Executive Officer at the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region. But, above all, Jarrett Barrios is a humanitarian with more than 20 years of experience helping people in need throughout the United States and Cuba.
To learn more about Jarrett Barrios or the America Red Cross Los Angeles Region, visit RedCrossLA.org.