Third-year UCF medical students showed their humanitarian spirit to Puerto Rico recently by collecting 152 pounds of food and supplies for island residents and donating $1,000 for their medical care.

“We may be students with our own loans and struggles,” said M.D. candidate Heather Lesch. “But we also understand that there is always a way to help others – especially those in such disastrous conditions.”

Today – about a month and a half after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, more than 60 percent of residents are still without power. And 30 percent of the island’s telecommunications grid is still broken – making it difficult for residents to use cell phones to communicate with families in the states.

While none of the student campaign leaders have family in Puerto Rico, they said they felt passionate to help others in need. Students collected items from family and friends, bringing them to the Student Affairs office; donation boxes were also set up at community centers around Orlando, like gyms and churches. UCF medical school donors contributed nonperishable food, medical supplies, baby products and toiletries. The third-year class also made the cash donation from their class fund to Direct Relief, a non-profit medical aid organization.

“We saw the situation as a truly devastating disaster happening in our own country,” said Robert Le, treasurer of the third-year class.

College of Medicine physicians and staff members have felt Puerto Rico’s troubles first-hand. Dr. Jose Rubero, associate program director of the Emergency Medicine Residency program, visited the island in October on a medical mission trip. He saw patients in shelters and encountered babies who had not eaten for days.

“I visited a total of eleven to twelve towns in the mountains that are difficult to access,” he said. “There was no electrical power, no fuel, no drinkable water. You knew that medications were running low. Many people are leaving the island.”

Carolyn Castro-Pagan, who coordinates affiliated and volunteer faculty members at the medical school, has relatives on the island and has struggled to reach them by phone and get them supplies.

“My entire family lives in Puerto Rico,” she said. “My mother, stepdad, brother and sister, aunts, uncles, cousins – you name it.”

But the medical students’ altruism has helped Castro-Pagan cope.

“I am a proud Puerto Rican – but I am more proud today because of the empathy, love and support I have felt around me – especially at the College of Medicine,” she said. “The fact that our med students are taking their time to help provide relief to my beautiful Isla del Encanto is both humbling and honorable. Puerto Rico se levanta – we will rise!”