The Dec. 9 Stand With Puerto Rico donation drive at the George T. Harrell, MD, Medical Education Building was the first in a string of events Velez is planning. She kicked off the event with a heartfelt appeal, asking attendees to give what they could, specifically personal hygiene products, first-aid kits and bug repellent to combat the mosquito-borne illnesses that result from an abundance of standing water. “Puerto Rico is a very small place with a very big heart. We want to get them back on their feet,” she said. “This is more than an acute disaster; it’s a rebuild effort that will take a long time. Even if it’s not on the news anymore, it’s still happening for the people of Puerto Rico. I want the UF College of Medicine to be a part of that.”
Velez introduced two third-year students from San Juan Bautista School of Medicine, Elsa Rodriguez and Brian Torres, who recounted their experiences on the island before, during and after Hurricane Maria, which made landfall Sept. 20. The UF College of Medicine sponsored the pair’s clinical rotations, allowing them to continue their medical training without delay.
“Things were already difficult before Maria hit because of Hurricane Irma,” Rodriguez said.
She said the hardest part of the storm was the lack of communication she had with her family in Miami. A few days after the storm, she and Torres took a Royal Caribbean humanitarian cruise ship to Florida. While on board, the pair volunteered with the ship’s medical team, performing health screenings and cleaning wounds for the other passengers.
“It was a great opportunity to see people come together to help others,” Rodriguez said.
After Rodriguez and Torres spoke, attendees were treated to lunch, followed by Zumba and salsa dance classes. Velez said the event was intended to honor the joy and resiliency of the Puerto Rican people.
Maria Velazquez, MD, director of the UF College of Medicine Anaclerio Learning and Assessment Center, assisted Velez in her efforts to begin the initiative. Velazquez’s mother and four siblings live in Puerto Rico.
“As a Puerto Rican living off the island, I’ve personally felt very guilty for eating warm foods, taking warm showers, even drinking water from the faucet,” she said. “Lymaries and I realized very quickly that we needed to give back something meaningful — supplies they really need.”
The UF College of Medicine group has already sent more than two
dozen boxes of donated goods to Puerto Rico. Residents of the town of Morovis, located in the center of the island, were given the personal hygiene products, first-aid kits and bug repellent collected during the donation drive. Future fundraising events will be held this year, Velazquez said, with the goal of raising money to “adopt families with very specific needs.”
“From Day 1, we teach the medical students that they are citizens of the world,” Velazquez said. “They‘re in this program to help others, especially those without the means or those living in places without access
to care. Puerto Rico is one of those places right now. I’m very proud of