This CNN hero traveled 5,500 miles to provide care for Turkey earthquake survivors
At her home in Anchorage, Alaska, nurse Teresa Gray was playing a board game with her children when she heard about the massive earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria on February 6.
Although she was more than 5,500 miles away from the disaster, she immediately sprang into action.
Gray’s nonprofit organization, Mobile Medics International, sends small teams of volunteer doctors to humanitarian crises around the world. They are usually on the ground helping out within 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 CNN’s Top 10 Heroine for her work.
By February 7, Gray had received permission from the Turkish Ministry of Health to join the relief effort, and departed early the next morning.
“It’s a very hectic period before an assignment,” Gray told CNN as she made final preparations for the trip. “We would like to go in as soon as possible. Therefore, we will be on the ground about 72 hours after the earthquake.”
She has packed supplies to help hundreds of patients, from trauma bandages to antibiotics and acetaminophen. She also prepared the equipment her team would need to be self-sufficient in the harsh winter conditions.
“The buildings are very damaged, so you can’t stay inside, it’s too dangerous,” she said. “We’ll sleep in a tent, have meals ready to eat… It’s not going to be a good time.”
Gray also made a video call to communicate with her team, which included a paramedic from London, a doctor from Malaysia and an anesthetist nurse from Missouri. It’s been a difficult time for Gray, who says she becomes “very focused” before each assignment, trying to anticipate problems that might arise.
“We need to find a safe place to be. What if someone forgets their sleeping bag? We don’t speak the language, so I need to find some interpreters,” she said. “These are the things on my mind as I get ready to go to the airport.”
After an epic trip through Seattle and New York, Gray finally landed in Turkey late on February 9th and reunited with her squad. They made their way to Hatay Province, and once there, they started making mobile clinics on the streets of Samandağ.
For Gray, the devastation she witnessed was hard to comprehend.
“Just the total amount of annihilation… That’s probably the greatest devastation I’ve ever seen on any mission we’ve been on,” she said.
Since many of the buildings were unstable, the government ordered all families to sleep in the open in tents. In a cell phone video shot on Valentine’s Day, Gray described how she and her group would go street to street, stopping at tents to offer them help. It reported people being treated for earthquake injuries, including a girl who had been stuck in the rubble for more than 12 hours, as well as illnesses such as influenza that were exacerbated by the living conditions.
“Whatever they want us to look at, we’ll look at,” she said. Then we go back and sleep in our car. Wake up the next morning and do it again.”
Gray said they treated hundreds of people during their 10-day mission. One of the interpreters, a high school teacher they called KT, became an essential part of their team. In a cell phone video, KT Gray told what the people who were helping her told her.
“They said to me, tell them (sic) thank you.” K. said.
KT 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 – lost their homes and were forced to take refuge in a greenhouse on their property.
Despite their own struggles, Gray said, KT’s family has adopted the Grays as their own, allowing them to stay on their property, making tea and coffee for them, and sharing meals with them. Their generosity was yet another reminder that humanity, even in trying times, shines through.
On February 19, Gray returned to Alaska. When a 6.3-magnitude aftershock hit Turkey the next day, she immediately reached out to KT and others she befriended on her trip to make sure they were all okay. She’s working on fielding another team of volunteers very soon.
Want to participate? Check out the Mobile Medics International website and see how we can help.
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