They found a diabetic elderly woman covered in insects, disoriented on the floor of her home. Another day, they helped local doctors perform heart surgery. And on another, they were forced to read an X-ray outdoors, using the light of the sun.
The Florida Hospital emergency physicians were the first to receive provisional licenses to practice medicine in Puerto Rico — their license numbers 001, 002, 003, 004 and 005, respectively. After returning to Orlando on Sunday evening, the doctors gathered Monday to share their experiences for the first time.
The team began their relief efforts nearly two weeks ago. While their initial goal was to assess the island’s health care needs, they began providing medical and humanitarian aid immediately.
“We could not have accomplished all we did were it not for divine intervention,” said Dr. Julian Trivino, who works at Florida Hospital Orlando.
As they landed in a military helicopter in a rural area one day, an orphanage operator pleaded for help. There was no drinkable water for the children. The doctors, in many situations, worked with multiple agencies to provide relief.
“With the help of the U.S. Army, we were able to deliver drinkable water to the kids in the orphanage within the hour,” said Dr. Katia Lugo, a Puerto Rico native who works at Florida Hospital Orlando.
When the Florida Hospital team, working with Puerto Rico’s health department, learned a hospital was on the brink of shutting down, they facilitated the delivery of water and other critical supplies, allowing the hospital to remain open.
Despite the challenging conditions — roads were closed, communication nearly nonexistent, emergency department temperatures were in the high 90s — the physicians touched countless lives.
But the impact may have been greatest on the doctors.
“It changed my life,” said Dr. Alfredo Tirado, also a Puerto Rico native who works at Florida Hospital Orlando. “You get into medicine because you want to help people. And being able to get there and see the needs down there, I was very heartbroken.”
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