Health Check: Local doctor volunteers in Puerto Rico

Dr. Francisco Trilla, who is the chief medical officer at Neighborhood Health Plan, is recounting his two trips to Puerto Rico during and post-Hurricane Maria.

Dr, Francisco Trilla, who is the chief medical officer at Neighborhood Health Plan, is recounting his two trips to Puerto Rico during and post-Hurricane Maria.

Trilla, who goes by Paco, traveled to Puerto Rico in September to rescue his aunt and godmother. The women had lost power after Hurricane Irma.

"My plan was to go down two days before and come back two days after the hurricane. It didn't turn out that way,” said Trilla.

As he traveled there, Hurricane Maria ramped up

"It went from a category three to a category five overnight," he said.

Trilla said he stayed at his aunt's house in Carolina.

"Somewhere around three in the morning (on September 20), there was just this freight train noise out there -- this howling -- and the window just slamming and you could hear light poles breaking," said Trilla.

Although waters rose, his aunt's house was spared.

"Telephones didn't work, email didn't work," he said.

Trilla stepped up to volunteer.

But, he said, they weren't so interested in his medical degree.

"What they had were tree clearing and road clearing crews, so I worked on one of those crews," Trilla said.

He also helped triage folks who needed life-saving dialysis.

Yet, it wasn't until he returned to Rhode Island that he got a call from a non-profit medical group known as Project Hope, asking for his medical help.

"So, we saw the most vulnerable -- people who were really poor, people who were bed bound, with strokes, people with handicaps, disabilities, and we would do house calls,” said Trilla, adding that there are still over a million people today in Puerto Rico without power."

He also noted that it is especially tough in the more isolated areas.

"We have some real challenges down there,” said Trilla. "They're going to go on for a while. I think one of the next challenges you're going to see is we have a flu vaccine program in Rhode Island and most people get vaccinated. That program is not going to happen this year in Puerto Rico, so you may see a flu outbreak that's very significant."

Trilla said he's grateful to Neighborhood Health Plan for allowing him to take time off to volunteer. He said he plans on going back to help out and he'd like to challenge other medical professionals to volunteer with an organized group, such as Project Hope, as the need is overwhelming.

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