Bethesda CEO Helps Fly Needed Medical Supplies to Puerto Rico
Joins with D.C. man on two trips this month to aid remote areas
From left, Ethan Leder; Wilbert Ruiz, the Aguada city administrator; and Rafael Hernandez with supplies Leder and Jose Ortiz-Gaud took to Puerto Rico.
PHOTO PROVIDED BY ETHAN LEDER
Two area residents flew to Puerto Rico twice this month to deliver much-needed medical supplies to six remote regions of northwest Puerto Rico.
Ethan Leder, the chief executive officer of Bethesda-based Precision Medicine, said he chartered a plane to provide about 4,000 pounds of supplies over two trips, including over-the-counter drugs, insulin, surgical masks, power bars and Pedialyte, which combats dehydration. He and Jose Ortiz-Guad, who lives in Chevy Chase in Washington, D.C., provided 1,500 pounds on the first trip and 2,500 pounds on the second.
Last week, they took supplies to Aguada, which still didn’t have the aid it needed, said Leder, a Bethesda resident. On Tuesday of this week, they delivered supplies to five regions, including Moca, Maricao, Isabela, Aguadilla and Las Marias, which didn’t have power, Leder said.
Angelique Sina from Friends of Puerto Rico, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization in D.C., traveled with Ortiz-Gaud and Leder on Tuesday.
Ortiz-Gaud, a Puerto Rican native from Mayagüez, contacted government officials in Puerto Rico to help. He said he first chose the municipality of Aguada, where about 42,000 people live, because government officials were reachable by phone. He coordinated relief efforts with the mayor of Moca and assistant mayor of Maricao.
When Ortiz-Gaud and Leder arrived at Rafael Hernández Airport in Aguadilla last week, they saw the devastation. Three members of the Aguada city hall staff worked out of what looked like a nearby retail space, Ortiz-Gaud said.
“Puerto Rico is destroyed, the whole island. I’m talking about every bit of it,” Ortiz-Gaud said.
Aguada’s city administrator, Wilbert Ruiz, provided a photo of six handwritten pages listing supplies that Aguada’s health clinic desperately needed. Leder and Ortiz-Gaud delivered those items.
Part of the handwritten list of supplies that officials in Puerto Rico said they needed. Photo from Jose Ortiz-Gaud.
The clinic was flooded and had no electricity, so it operated out of a room in a church, Ortiz-Gaud said.
“You wouldn’t believe what it looked like,” Leder said.
There were 60 to 70 patients at the clinic with no access to simple antibiotics, Tylenol or aspirin. Doctors stitched patients up with thread and sewing needles because that’s all they had, Leder said. When Ruiz saw the supplies Leder and Ortiz-Gaud had for the clinic, he cried tears of amazement, Ortiz-Gaud said.
“We brought him [supplies that] will probably last six to eight weeks. I’m making the point that this can be done. It just required action, not words,” Leder said.
“You feel like you’re just plugging up holes in a duct when you bring these medicines over,” he said.
Puerto Rico needs heavy-duty generators that weigh around 6,000 pounds to provide the electricity it needs, Leder said. Only wide-bodied jets or ships can take those generators over, he added.
Trip supplies included small but powerful LED lanterns and generators, Leder said. He said Puerto Rico’s electrical power can’t withstand natural disasters and should use alternative sources like solar panels to prevent widespread electrical outages.
“We will have more of these calamities.” Leder said. “They will come fast and furious, and they will affect more main lands and islands.”
Leder contacted Ortiz-Gaud through longtime friend Ben Soto, the president of Premium Title & Escrow, a title company in Washington, D.C.
Leder knew Soto was Puerto Rican and wanted to help, so Soto put him in touch with Ortiz-Gaud. Soto and Ortiz-Gaud already had worked with Friends of Puerto Rico to gather supplies and money to send to Puerto Rico, Soto said.
Superior Biologics, Suburban Hospital and Precision Medicine Group provided medicine for last week’s trip.
Medstar Health System, Superior Biologics and Precision Medicine Group provided medicine for this week’s delivery, Leder said. D.C. Friends of Puerto Rico, which is coordinating its own relief efforts, also contributed supplies this week.
The total cost of supplies for both trips came to around $310,000, Leder said.
Leder and Ortiz-Gaud transported a dialysis patient and his family to a hospital in Fort Lauderdale last week, Ortiz-Gaud said. This week, they took an elderly man with dementia to Manassas Regional Airport in Virginia, where his son met him, Leder said.
They plan to do more.
Ortiz-Gaud is taking part in “Bike to Brooklyn” on Oct. 21, a biking event that begins in Washington, D.C., and ends in Brooklyn, New York. Proceeds will go to Friends of Puerto Rico.
Leder hopes to create an aid operation with zero overhead and bureaucracy. It will be designed to deal with emergencies that require immediate action that large organizations can’t provide, he said.