United States

A pair of Miami doctors mount medical relief mission to Puerto Rico

Doctors Jennifer Schell and Dalian Caraballo responded to Puerto Rican health crisis with their own effort to resupply clinics and hospitals lacking essential medicines.
15 Oct 2017 – 12:48 PM EDT

MIAMI - It has been almost a month since the onslaught of Hurricane Maria and there are still medical centers in Puerto Rico operating solely with drugs and supplies donated by doctors in the United States.

Jennifer Schell is a gynecologist and Dalian Caraballo a general practitioner. On September 20, the day Hurricane Maria struck as a Category 4 storm, Caraballo created a Facebook group called Doctoras Boricuas, (Women Doctors of Puerto Rico), using local name for people from the island.

Half of the participants were doctors on the island itself and the other half in Miami. The purpose was to create a support network in case hospitals or health centers were forced to shut down due to supply shortages. Within a few hours, it was clear the network would have to be activated.


Las cajas van con una serie de especificaciones: el nombre del médico u hospital a quien va dirigido. Qué hay en su interior y las precauciones que se deben tener. En la fotografía, un cargamento listo para ser enviado para Puerto Rico con la imagen del nombre del grupo: Doctors4PuertoRico.

Seeing the devastation caused by Maria, Schell proposed two things to Caraballo. First, to involve male doctors too; second, to divide their efforts, with Caraballo concentrating on health centers as she turned her attention to hospitals.

Schell was born in Miami and works here, but grew up in Puerto Rico where she became a doctor. On a recent day working with her five-member relief team, Doctors4PuertoRico, Schell managed to send a private plane with 1,550 pounds of medicines and supplies valued at $100,000.

A New York foundation, which preferred anonymity, made the donation and coordinated the plane.

Schell has taken charge of seeking financial help to pay for the requests of doctors from different areas across in Puerto Rico. Once she has the funds, she then makes the purchases from her own office. Then looks for a small plane that can carry the supplies to Puerto Rico – free of charge.

"I can’t complain, there is always some company or person that agrees to take part of the supplies on their plane," Schell told Univision News. "Right now, I have some medicine packaged and ready, but we are waiting for a plane."

Caraballo is Puerto Rican. She left the place she calls “my island" in 2009 for Ohio for her final year of med school. Nowadays, from Monday to Thursday, she works as a doctor in an ICE detention center. From Friday to Sunday, she is at her own office.

In total, she has organized 10 flights with planes full of medical supplies.

"Maria hit Puerto Rico on a Wednesday and by Saturday we had already sent our first aid flight," Caraballo said. "There's always an angel who sends us a plane, when we need it most."

And that "angel" appeared again one day recently to transport more than 30 boxes with medical utensils that several hospitals on the island needed. The priority is to help the hospitals furthest from the main cities, where government aid operations find it harder to reach, Caraballo.


In photos: Doctors in Florida on mission to send medical supplies to Puerto Rico

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On her Facebook page, Caraballo published a photograph of her husband checking the aid packages aboard a plane headed for the island so that doctors can continue working and saving lives.


On a typical day, Caraballo ends her day around 11:00 pm, and returns home with both the satisfaction of having made a cargo shipment, but with the uncertainty over where the next plane will appear from. Still, the worries melt away with a smile from her husband and a hug from her daughter, she said.

"My husband supports me 100 percent. He understands what I'm doing for Puerto Rico," Caraballo said in a telephone interview. "My daughter does get very angry, though. She complains I've been working too much. Can you believe it? And she's barely five years old."

Schell finds a similar scene when she arrives home at night. Her American husband supports her and is proud of her work.

"My husband is still shocked at everything I've done to help Puerto Rico. But it fills him with pride," Schell said.

Women PR Doctors and Doctors4PuertoRico will continue to work and send help until the government of Puerto Rico issues an official communique confirming the normalization in all medical centers.

Until that happens, these two women, who represent the cry for help of hundreds of Puerto Rican doctors, will not stop.


In photos: Doctors in Florida on mission to send medical supplies to Puerto Rico

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