TUSCALOOSA, AL (WBRC) - Two nurses, inspired to do disaster relief work following the April 27, 2011 Tuscaloosa tornado, have just returned from two weeks serving in Puerto Rico. The island is still working to recover in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center nurses Kimberley Sawyer and Kathy Ridings were deployed to Puerto Rico through the VA's Disaster Emergency Management Personnel System, known as DEMPS. DEMPS is the Veterans
Health Administration's main deployment program for clinical and non-clinical staff to an emergency or disaster.
Sawyer and Ridings cared for patients at a federal medical station. Some of the patients they cared for were people who needed medical equipment and attention in a home or nursing home, but could not remain there because of the lack of electricity in many places on the island. The nurses were providing care not just to veterans, but to all people.
Both nurses said the work was extremely rewarding, and they were overwhelmed by the spirit of the Puerto Rican people.
"We found that the Puerto Rican people take wonderful care of their family members at home," Ridings said. "They worked alongside of us, they stayed there with their family members, and we became one big family."
"We certainly felt the love from them," Sawyer said. "I've never been told by so many people, 'I love you', that didn't know me. They were very loving, very appreciative of everything that you did for them and their family members. "
The nurses said their service through DEMPS would not have been possible without the support of their co-workers, employer and family members. Ridings and Sawyer encourage anyone wanting to help the relief effort in Puerto Rico to consider directly supporting someone who is traveling there to serve.