Lending a Humanitarian Hand
By Vanessa Recio Rawls
Editor’s note: Vanessa Rawls, Pharm.D. ’04, and her husband, Nathan, are joining pharmacists in the Rio Grande Valley including other Longhorn pharmacy alumni in providing humanitarian relief to the refugees crossing the U.S. border in the Rio Grande Valley. Vanessa documents her experiences in setting up a system for providing medications to the medical mobile units serving the refugees this article. She reports that the efforts to provide the medications are ongoing as she and her team are in communications daily with physicians to determine which medications are most needed.
I was raised in the Rio Grande Valley and often time forget that the Rio Grande River is the border between the United States and Mexico. For many local residents, it is an invisible line because our border communities share the same customs including culture, religion, food and language.
Recently the Valley has been on the front page of national newspapers and electronic press such as CNN amidst a heated immigration debate. Thousands of refugees are escaping less than favorable conditions in their home countries, and we are challenged with the influx of those needing services including medical attention.
One of the first responders was Sacred Heart Catholic Church in downtown McAllen. Inside the church well-organized sections are set up to store clothing, food, and personal hygiene items. Plenty of volunteers are on hand to help. Outside the church are tents, temporary shower and bathroom facilities, and a mobile medical clinic. Local volunteer doctors and physician assistants staff the mobile unit and are busy treating patients who wait to be transported.
After touring the facility, I knew the pharmacy community was in a unique position to fill a void. The medical mobile unit did not have any medication to treat ill patients. My business partners and fellow UT alumni, Ramiro Barrera, B.S. ‘72, and James Olivarez, B.S. ’84, and I immediately spearheaded an effort to collect the needed medications. We reached out for help to our Texas based buying group American Pharmacies, for whom my husband Nathan works.
Together we were able to organize a mass collection of items from several independent pharmacies in the Valley. On June 30, supplies were donated to the medical team by many area pharmacists including UT Pharmacy alumni Joe Ochoa, B.S. ‘75; Alessandra Ochoa Valdez, Pharm.D. ‘11; Damaso Navarro Jr., Pharm.D. ‘08; Jesus Saenz, B.S. ‘75; Daniel Vela, B.S. ‘79.
When we arrived at the make shift camp, the media surrounded our delivery vehicles and began interviewing many of the pharmacists. We took this as an opportunity to educate people about the immigration situation and convey the role pharmacists play in the health care system. As health care professionals, we have a duty to help those in need.
While the political wheels turn, the Valley Longhorn pharmacists will continue to fulfill our oath. During the past few weeks my pharmacy, Richard’s Pharmacy in Mission, has served as a temporary storage facility for donated OTC and prescription items. Fortunately, American Pharmacies was able to secure a secondary shipment of products from their wholesale partners. I think the old phrase, “Crisis brings people together,” is fitting in this situation. It is wonderful to know that my Longhorn Pharmacy brothers and sisters will always rise to the occasion.
The eyes of Texas are upon us.