By Jeff Wagner

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As summer turns to fall, many Minnesotans find themselves packing up for a trip up north to camp or hunt.

But Mary Chismar Sweeney, a registered nurse who works at United Hospital in St. Paul, is heading south to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.

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“Just watching things on television just breaks your heart,” she said. “And to sit back, know you have some skills that possibly somebody could use… you know it didn’t take long (to volunteer). I mean it’s almost like you couldn’t fight it, you had to do it.”

Sweeney is part of a country-wide volunteer effort in part through the National Nurses United union.

“I’m alongside 60 other nurses, RN’s, and then 40 physicians,” she said of the large group eagerly awaiting a daunting challenge.

Sweeney said she’ll be working 12 hour shifts for at least two weeks. She expects to help victims dealing with everything from broken bones to sickness from the polluted flood waters. The tough part, she said, is that medicine is in short supply, just like electricity.

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“Not all of the hospitals are up and running. There’s only nine hospitals that actually have generators but they’re running out of fuel and everything to keep it all going,” she said.

For the trip, Sweeney bought a camping back-pack you might typically see someone bring for a rugged hike. She’s got a sleeping bag because she wasn’t told if there would be cots at the location where she and the other volunteers will be stationed. Her clothing includes a week’s worth of scrubs, shorts for the warm weather, along with a Vikings T-shirt to show some home-state pride.

“I do need to get some boots,” she said as she surveyed her soon-to-be-packed belongings.

Boots aside, Sweeney said she feels fully prepared for the task at hand.

“Frankly it was just in my gut. I just feel like this was the right thing to do,” she said of volunteering.

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Sweeney said all of the health care volunteers are meeting in New Jersey Tuesday. They’ll then fly down alongside volunteer carpenters and electricians to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Jeff Wagner