Elisa Martinez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was called into action immediately after learning of the devastation done by hurricane Maria. She immediately began searching for volunteer opportunities to do whatever she could to provide assistance to the place where her family is from, and the places where some of her family lives.

She learned about opportunities for nurses and health care professionals to volunteer for 2 weeks after the hurricane and was told it would be a difficult experience since there was no power or electricity. As a hard-working nurse at St. Barnabas, and a single mother with an 8 year-old daughter, Elisa needed permission to go. And she got it!

Her daughter said: “I want you to go and help our people.”

With the support of my mother, manager, director and co-workers as well, she knew she made the right decision.

United Airlines provided a flight that flew 350 people of all professions: nurses, doctors, electricians, plumbers, truck workers and upon arrival was greeted by the mayor of San Juan at the colosseum which would be their home for the next 2 weeks.

She slept on a cot in a locker room with about 30 other women, provided with meals consisting of canned meat and rice most days, and every morning provided with coffee and ham and cheese sandwiches donated by a wonderful volunteer.

Elisa was part of a team performing community assessments - 8 teams of about 10 nurses following a doctor and a nurse practitioner assigned to each team. A local guide took the teams to locations that were either assigned or otherwise determined to be a location of need.

They woke up at 6 am every morning and were able to cover 60-80% of the island.

There was no running water or power in most places. As nurses, we knew we could not provide medical assistance without providing basic needs, including water – and food.

Elisa and her team went to communities for the disabled and elderly, and to FEMA sites that only provided a paper for people to sign after waiting in long lines under the sun for hours. People would collapse from heat exhaustion, so nurses had to provide immediate care in order to stabilize patients.

After a few days, it became clear people were getting sick from water contamination due to obtaining water from creeks that were contaminated by dead animals from the hurricane. Their role then shifted from immediate needs to public safety.

Elisa’s team went home to home providing clean water, education, providing tablets to decontaminate water and providing education on mold prevention and complications.

FEMA officials were asked to provide her group with water and military meals so that they could meet everyone’s basic needs.

The CDC recommends that a person needs 1 gallon a day of water, and there are 3 million people, so Puerto Rico needed 3 million gallons of water a day to be provided to them.

The entire team fought hard for every person to get their basic needs met.

During Elisa’s time in Puerto Rico, their self-named “Rogue Team 6” created several relationships. They fortunately met a doctor able to obtain donated medications and medical equipment they could provide to our patients.

They created alliances with the national guard and mayors of each municipality to provide assistance to the people that needed it most or that hadn’t received any assistance at all.

Their work continues today, thanks to a local doctor who donated his time to assist us in their efforts. A non-profit was created named The Rogue United to provide assistance in times of future disasters.

Elisa shared a very personal story about her visit to Utuado. It took hours to get to due to its remote location on a mountain and due to the amount of fallen trees that blocked the roads.

She remembers crying because a beautiful lake that her grandmother used to take her to was destroyed, the water was brown, and all the trees looked as if a bulldozer came and knocked them all down.

The most heartbreaking part for Elisa was visiting her aunt who immediately begged her for clean water. It infuriated Elisa to see that not even basic needs like water could be provided to these US citizens. That people had to wait in lines for hours and were limited to the amount they were able to get was unconscionable to her.

As a result of her efforts volunteering in Puerto Rico, Elisa has become even more grateful for even basic things in life.

The experience also inspired her to apply for two masters degrees in public health and nursing.

This young nurse and single mother rose to the challenge, and had a life-changing experience, while also helping to save the lives of others. We are so very fortunate to be able to honor this future humanitarian – a nurse who is already making a global impact early in her career.

We look forward to honoring Elisa along with other amazing nurses at the United Nations on May 11, as we recognize International Nurses Day.

– Deb