‘Never Felt Like It Was Enough’: Nurse Describes Puerto Rico Volunteer Effort

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Mary Chismar Sweeney just finished what she calls an experience of a lifetime, filled with images she’ll never forget of an island torn apart by Mother Nature.

“It was humbling, I have to say for starts, because of what you take for granted here at home,” she said.

She was one of around 60 nurses and 40 physicians who volunteered two weeks of their time to help families in Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Maria and Irmas decimated entire communities.

They set up clinics, sometimes in churches or in an open lot with a few tables. Nurses also went from door to door to check on people. Others relieved local nurses who’ve been working nonstop at hospitals. Chismar Sweeney said the many of the injuries they encountered were related to the high waters people were subjected to for days.

“Things moving around the street were cutting their legs up, they had infections, they had really bad eye infections,” she said.

But much of their time had nothing to do with medicine.

“My team got back together and said listen, we can take care of some of their health needs as it’s happening but the real need, everybody’s need is one thing and that’s clean water and good food,” she said.

A nurse in their group started a GoFundMe page and shared it on social media. They collected tens of thousands of dollars and put much of the money toward countless grocery store trips. The food and supplies were distributed to hundreds of families across several communities.

“Eight of us would be in the store, it would be like ‘OK you go down there you get the rice, OK you go down there you get the Clorox, OK you’re down there you’re going to get the oatmeal’,” she said.

Not only did they buy water, they bought bleach and taught people how to put drops of it in dirty water to clean it before drinking.

“It felt really good, it felt like you were doing as much as you could at the time but it never felt like it was enough,” she said.

Reflecting on her visit, Chismar Sweeney feels in her heart she made a difference. She just hopes others have the heart to do the same.

“Just because you’re back home you don’t want to forget what’s going on down there,” she said. “That’s the part that hit me the most.”

More from Jeff Wagner
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