‘The Vaccination Queen’: Nurse Practitioner Takes Covid Photographs Home to Home in Puerto Rico

MAYAGÜEZ, PUERTO RICO — Abigail Matos-Pagán entered a bright-blue home in Mayagüez earlier this summer time and was met by Beatriz Gastón, who quietly led the way in which to her mom’s small room. Matos-Pagán had come to supply a covid-19 vaccine for Wildelma Gastón, 88, whose arthritis and different well being issues confine her to mattress.

Wildelma Gastón requested for her rosary to be positioned on her chest and motioned to her “good arm,” the place Matos-Pagán injected a primary dose of the Moderna vaccine. The Gastón family, made up of 5 members of the family, breathed a collective sigh of aid. Although the vaccine had been obtainable for months, Wildelma had been unable to achieve a vaccination web site. In accordance with the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention’s COVID Knowledge Tracker, Puerto Rico’s vaccination price in March was one of many lowest amongst U.S. states and territories regardless of receiving greater than 1.3 million vaccine doses. The rollout highlighted disparities in entry to medical providers, and the challenges of monitoring and reaching distant residents, corresponding to Wildelma.

With every journey to high school or work, members of the family frightened about bringing the virus into their house and the menace to Wildelma’s life. Matos-Pagán additionally vaccinated two of Beatriz’s youngsters, who’re college students on the College of Puerto Rico-Mayaqüez, throughout her go to.

“We now have been ready a very long time for this second,” Beatriz Gastón stated as she hugged Matos-Pagán goodbye, expressing gratitude for the house go to. To her, the vaccine is greater than safety from the coronavirus — it clears the way in which for the household to be collectively along with her mom.

To Matos-Pagán, it’s her newest calling. The nurse practitioner, who has guided aid efforts after hurricanes and earthquakes in Puerto Rico and elsewhere, has made it her mission within the U.S. territory to vaccinate as many individuals as potential in opposition to covid. Some residents of Mayagüez, a metropolis on the western shore of the principle island, candidly name her “The Vaccination Queen” and present up at her house asking for assist in getting a shot.

In accordance with The New York Occasions’ case tracker, as of Friday, Puerto Rico has had greater than 182,000 covid circumstances and a minimum of 2,594 deaths. About 57% of the inhabitants is absolutely vaccinated, however lots of the unvaccinated are onerous to achieve as a result of they dwell in distant mountainous communities or have power sicknesses that depart them homebound. Matos-Pagán has vaccinated round 1,800 individuals in Puerto Rico to date, together with 1,000 who’ve power sicknesses or are bedridden.

Within the pandemic’s early days, Carmen Blas’ well being declined, and he or she started utilizing a wheelchair. Blas, 78, was confined to her house, on the third story of an residence constructing, which stored her protected from contracting covid, however later she couldn’t discover transportation to a vaccination web site. In June, her two youngsters, Lisette and Raymond, visited from Wisconsin to assist and instantly referred to as the general public well being officers to get Blas inoculated.

“I often come again yearly and this was the longest I’ve ever been away. It was particularly onerous as my mom’s well being worsened, and I frightened I would by no means see her once more,” stated Raymond, who deliberate to increase his go to for so long as he was wanted.

Matos-Pagán got here to Blas’ house in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, to offer her the vaccine. The household cheered the second the vaccination was over.

“It’s been actually particular to have intimate moments in somebody’s house throughout vaccinations. You may inform how a lot it means to their total household,” Matos-Pagán stated afterward.

Mobilizing throughout a disaster is nothing new for Matos-Pagán. Within the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which reduce off water and electrical energy to the whole island and claimed greater than 3,000 lives, Matos-Pagán carried out preliminary group assessments in Puerto Rico’s remotest and hardest-hit cities. Flooding and particles made many roads inaccessible, blocking these communities from primary wants corresponding to meals, water, prescription medicines and transportation. Then, after a collection of earthquakes in 2020 rocked the island, leaving much more individuals with out housing or in substandard constructions, Matos-Pagán organized native nurse practitioners to supply group well being care. They provided at-risk populations with their medicines when pharmacies closed, and groups arrange cell medical tents close to overcrowded hospitals.

“I’m hyper and busy in my day by day life, however when there’s a disaster, I’m calm and nonetheless. Grounded. I really feel like I’m the place I belong,” she stated.

Abigail Matos-Pagán offers Wildelma Gastón a covid vaccine at her house in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. Gastón is confined to mattress due to arthritis and different well being issues.(Alicia Carter)

Matos-Pagán was born in New York Metropolis. She turned interested by medication after watching nurses help her mom, who died of issues from an aneurysm when Matos-Pagán was 9. Her mom’s demise taught her “nothing was everlasting,” she stated, which has impressed her to behave when catastrophe strikes and help individuals by private tragedy and loss.

Matos-Pagán returned to Puerto Rico to check nursing and later earned a grasp’s diploma and a doctorate on the College of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez. Via her work, she holds numerous titles: first commander of the Puerto Rican Catastrophe Response Crew, and director and founding father of the Coalition of Nurses for Communities in Catastrophe.

Her experiences managing medical professionals and sources throughout hurricanes have taken her to areas throughout the U.S. Atlantic coast and the Caribbean. Throughout the covid pandemic, she was recruited to help in triage management for an ICU ground quick on sources in El Paso, Texas, and a hard-hit senior residing facility in Maryland.

“Not everyone seems to be constructed for this. It’s actually unhappy, miserable work,” Matos-Pagán stated. “However even when there are mass casualties, you’ll be able to nonetheless save lives and get individuals’s primary wants met. I’ve seen communities come collectively in probably the most unimaginable methods. It’s a problem, however that’s what retains me going.”

And, whilst she is quickly making an attempt to get extra covid pictures into the arms of Puerto Ricans, Matos-Pagán is getting ready for the following disaster. Hurricane season formally started in June, and he or she can be on disaster-ready responsibility till the tip of November.

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