When Chad Schmitz isn't busy leading his Gold Cross Ambulance crew at Mayo Clinic Health System in Owatonna, you might find him … well, virtually anywhere else in the world. That's because for the past four years, in addition to his work for Mayo Clinic and Gold Cross, Schmitz has been a member of the Minnesota Disaster Medical Assistance Team, donating his time and expertise wherever and whenever it's needed.
As the Owatonna People's Press recently reported, since joining the team in 2013, Schmitz has been "deployed" five times — three of them just this year. Those deployments have destinations like "a law enforcement memorial opening in Washington, D.C.," Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and Puerto Rico to help with Hurricane Maria cleanup and relief efforts.
And while the paper notes that "having a supervisor vanish for weeks on end can be challenging" at times, Schmitz is quick to point out that Gold Cross and Mayo Clinic "are unfailingly supportive" of his humanitarian efforts. In turn, Schmitz tells the paper he tries his best to "reward" that support by bringing a little bit of Mayo Clinic with him wherever he goes. "I bring [Mayo's] values down there in providing the best care I can to the patients, but not just patients, the communities we're in at that time," he says.
Most recently, those communities were the Puerto Rican cities of Ponce and Manati. Schmitz and "27 other Minnesotans — doctors, medics, nurses, pharmacists and more" spent 17 days getting a firsthand look at the damage caused by Maria and doing whatever they could to assist. "There was a lot of long-term care that was being provided at the facilities we were at," he tells the paper. "We also saw between 120 and 180 patients through our triage" into their makeshift hospital. The paper reports that Schmitz and his medical team assisted with "everything from lacerations and the flu to strokes and ventilators in need of power."
The conditions were often "exhausting," he says, and included "sleeping on cots and working in basketball arenas with unreliable electric grids and water pressure. But he says that's nothing compared to challenges faced by the residents who were working alongside him and other volunteers. "A lot of these guys didn't have power, water, even food in their homes, but they were making sure we had what we needed," he says. "They stayed until 11:30 (p.m.), even though they got off at 5, to help us get the power and AC set up. And then they had to go home and fix up their own homes. They literally got two or three hours of sleep, and they'd come back the next morning smiling."
It's that seemingly endless resiliency in the face of almost constant turmoil that Schmitz tells the paper he'll miss most now that he's returned home. "The Puerto Rican people are unbelievable," he says. "They're very resilient, they always were smiling and cracking jokes and having fun."
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