This CNN Hero Traveled 5,500 Miles to Provide Care to Turkey Earthquake Survivors | CNN



At home in Anchorage, Alaska, nurse Teresa Gray was playing a board game with her children when she learned about the massive earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria on Feb. 6.

Even though she was more than 5,500 miles from the disaster, she sprang into action immediately.

Gray’s nonprofit, Mobile Medics International, sends small teams of volunteer medics to humanitarian crises around the world. They are usually on the ground to help out for the first few days.

Since 2017, Gray and her group have responded to dozens of disasters, providing free medical care and comfort to more than 30,000 people on five continents. Last year, she was honored as a Top 10 CNN Hero for her work.

On February 7, Gray had received permission from the Turkish Ministry of Health to join the relief effort, and she flew out early the next morning.

“It’s pretty hectic leading up to a mission,” Gray told CNN as she made final preparations to travel. “We want to get in as soon as possible. So we will be on the ground about 72 hours after the earthquake.”

She packed supplies to help hundreds of patients, ranging from trauma bandages to antibiotics and acetaminophen. She also prepared the equipment her team would need to be self-sufficient in frigid winter conditions.

“The buildings are quite damaged, so you can’t stay inside, it’s too dangerous,” she said. “We’re going to sleep in a tent, eat MREs (Meals Ready to Eat)… This isn’t going to be a good time.”

Gray also made a video call to connect with her team, which included a paramedic from London, a doctor from Malaysia and a nurse anesthetist from Missouri. It’s been a hectic time for Gray, who says she gets “hyper-focused” before each mission and tries to anticipate potential problems.

“We need to find a safe place to be. What if someone forgot their sleeping bag? We don’t speak the language, so I have to find interpreters,’ she said. “These are the things that go through my mind as I get ready to go to the airport.”

After an epic journey through Seattle and New York, Gray finally landed in Turkey on February 9 and met her team there. They went to Hatay province and started conducting mobile clinics in the streets of Samandag.

For Gray, the devastation she witnessed was hard to comprehend.

“Just the total amount of destruction… this is probably the biggest destruction I’ve ever seen on any mission we’ve been on,” she said.

Because so many structures were unstable, the government had mandated that all families sleep in tents outside. In a cell phone video taken on Valentine’s Day, Gray described how she and her group would go street to street, stopping at tents to offer their help. She reported treating people for earthquake injuries, including a girl trapped in the rubble for more than 12 hours, as well as illnesses such as the flu that had been exacerbated by living conditions.

“Whatever they need to watch, we’ll do it,” she said. “Then we go back, sleep in our car. Get up the next morning and do it again.”

They treated hundreds of people during their 10-day mission, Gray said. One of their interpreters, a high school teacher they called KT, became an essential part of their team. In a cell phone video, KT told Gray what the people they were helping had said to her.

“They told me, ‘Tell them (sic) thank you. It’s really good for us because… we can’t see a doctor, we can’t visit a hospital,” KT said.

KT had also suffered a lot. Two of her students were killed in the earthquake and the school where she taught was destroyed. She and most of her extended family — 15 people in all — lost their home and had to take refuge in a greenhouse on their property.

Despite their own hardships, KT’s family adopted Gray’s group as their own, Gray said — letting them stay on their property, make them tea and coffee, and share meals with them. Their generosity once again reminded us that even in desperate times, humanity shines through.

Gray returned to Alaska on February 19. When Turkey was hit by a magnitude 6.3 aftershock the next day, she immediately contacted KT and others she had befriended on her journey to make sure everything was okay. was okay. She is working on sending another team of volunteers soon.

Do you want to join? Checking out the Mobile Medics International website and see how you can help.

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