Jander Kugelman, 16, of New Market, Maryland, a junior at Oakdale High School, helped provide crucial access to medical care for residents of storm-ravaged Puerto Rico by volunteering on a medical van for several months in 2018. After Hurricane Maria struck the island, Jander and his family had to wait for weeks to learn whether their relatives there were alright. “When we heard back from my grandparents, they described the precarious conditions on the island,” said Jander. “There was no power, food, gas, clean water or available medical facilities.” But Jander’s grandfather, a doctor, had an idea. He and some colleagues wanted to outfit a medical van to reach areas with no access to medical care. As soon as school was out for the summer, Jander flew to the island to help.
Prior to taking the van out, Jander’s job was to load supplies and do an inventory of medical equipment. This included making sure batteries were charged, power generators were full of gas, extra gas cans were on board, and basic diagnostic equipment such as blood pressure cuffs and stethoscopes, as well as common medications, were ready to go. Twice a week the team traveled to remote areas on surfaces that bore little resemblance to actual roads. Sometimes they would park the van on a beach or in a parking lot to administer care to people who sometimes tried to pay them with vegetables or chickens, even though their food was in short supply. “People came together during a difficult time and brought forward their best,” said Jander.