Sending PPE & Hope to New Mexico

Tzu Chi Medical Foundation  |  May 28, 2020
Good Samaritans Nina and Michael Heumann pick up PPE donations from the Tzu Chi Medical Foundation office in Alhambra, CA. Photo/Tzu Chi Medical

Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Dilber Shatursun

On April 29, Nina and Michale Heumann drove from Northridge in LA to the city of Alhambra, CA. There, they would pick up personal protective equipment from the Tzu Chi Medical Foundation’s office on behalf of the Gallup Indian Medical Center (GIMC) in Gallup, New Mexico – home to native Anasazi archaeological sites from as far back as 300 AD.

The Heumann’s relationship with the GIMC has been a long one; over the years, they had sponsored students from Futures for Children, an organization dedicated to supporting Native American students. Three of the students the Heumanns sponsored, belonging to the Navajo tribe, ended up eventually working at the GIMC.

But, after reading an Op-Ed on April 20th called Nowhere is Remote Anymore published in the New York Times – the Heumanns grew concerned. The article illustrated the frightening vulnerabilities indigenous communities face, even far from known coronavirus epicenters. It spotlighted harrowing facts like:

  • widespread lack of running water, electricity, and grocery stores

  • nearby health facilities are hours away from residential areas by car

  • with little signage and clearly displayed addresses, emergency services struggle to reach those who call

  • rates of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes run high among the Navajo, making them ultra vulnerable to fatality should they contract the coronavirus

These facts are only a few. Yet when Professor Binbing Li from California State University, Northridge found out about Nina and Michael’s ensuing search for PPE, he instinctively referred them to his contacts at Tzu Chi.

In early February, Professor Bingbing Li meets with the Tzu Chi Medical Foundation staff, including Mary Keh. Photo/Tzu Chi Medical

A professor of manufacturing systems engineering himself, Professor Li had already begun the work of 3D printing protective face shields to donate to medical centers. Creating a batch of 110, he worked together with Tzu Chi Medical Foundation CEO Dr. William Keh to donate them in addition to 2,000 surgical masks, 200 pairs of goggles and 25 sets of protective coveralls to GIMC.

Now, the question had changed: how would these supplies get where they needed to go?

The Heumanns reached out to one of those students they had sponsored from Futures for Children. They were willing to drive to Kingman, AZ – a midpoint between California and New Mexico – to help relay the goods to their next point: Victoria Wilson.

A Gallup resident herself, Victoria’s siblings, including her sister and two brothers work at the GIMC. Seeing the shortages of PPE threatening their, their colleagues’, and their patients’ safety, she convinced Joshua Turney, her supervisor at the State Farm Insurance where she worked, to borrow the company car to make the pickup. And, she did!

Mission accomplished! Victoria Wilson poses with the PPE from Tzu Chi & Professor Bingbing Li. Photo courtesy of Victoria Wilson

Victoria picked up a total of five boxes of PPE donated by Tzu Chi and Professor Li – which traveled roughly 300 miles and across three states. The donation arrived at the GIMC on April 30 and was received by Dr. Jennie Wei. In her thank you letter, she wrote:

In addition to being over 150% capacity in our inpatient hospital beds, we also have over 130 patients that are not able to safely isolate at home and are now staying in local motels and hotels… The PPE that your organization has donated is going to protect the healthcare staff that are taking care of all of these patients on our COVID inpatient units, as well as our outreach teams visiting hotels and motels, checking in on people on a daily basis. This has been such a tough time for our community, but knowing others, both near and far, are offering to help with donations truly makes us feel like we're not alone in this battle. Thank you again for your generous donations to our community!

We’re humbled to offer relief to those in our indigenous communities, particularly vulnerable to the dangers of COVID-19, and thank all those involved for making this donation happen.