GOLETA, Calif. - Direct Relief is responding to the medical crisis in Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island.
Some medicine and emergency first aid supplies have already arrived and are being dispersed by health care providers. But, large cargo delivery flights are bogged down with other aid trying to reach the area.
Direct Relief President and CEO Thomas Tighe is personally accompanying a shipment of 20 bins of medical supplies which will be transported on a commercial American Airlines flight as "excess baggage."
"It's a range of chronic medications and emergency medications," Tighe said. The humanitarian aid organization is already strategizing a "much bigger infusion next week," he said.
Hurricane Maria added more strain to an already overburdened health care system in Puerto Rico. Doctors and health care professionals are struggling to care for patients in the wake of the storm that destroyed the power grid and cut off the fuel supply.
Delayed communication and lack of information has complicated the response and created logistical challenges.
Tighe and his team were able to quickly respond to an urgent request for 70 children with hemophilia-a genetic disorder that impairs the body's ability to clot blood. Direct Relief got the call on Tuesday night and was able to deliver the medicine from the warehouse in Goleta to the children in Puerto Rico within 30 hours.
CNN'S Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta went to Puerto Rico to see firsthand the challenges of getting medical aid delivered to those who need it. Eventually, he encountered a team from Direct Relief which was set up underneath a parking structure, doling out medicines to medical practitioners. Gupta got a bag of medicine from the non-profit and made a personal delivery to a hospital.
"We didn't know he was doing it. We found out about it when it aired," said Tighe. "We were thankful for it and thankful for a high profile delivery for Direct Relief.”
Tighe is expected to arrive in Puerto Rico on Sunday. He expects a large FedEx shipment to follow soon after.
Direct Relief is still active and supporting recovery efforts for the earthquake in Mexico, Hurricane Harvey victims in Texas and Hurricane Irma victims in the Caribbean and Florida, along with other crises around the world.
Tighe said the disasters are a series of unprecedented events in size and scope, but the organizations focus and commitment is unwavering. "Direct Relief’s functions are the same," he said. "We just have to do a lot more of it.”
Tighe said the work is also very personal for his staff and he understands the need to act quickly.
"Just for people to know that a lot of people are pulling for them and we are doing everything we can," he said.
To donate to Direct Relief, click here.