Disaster Response in the Philippines: Q&A with J.R. Rowley, PA-C
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Source: Wikimedia Commons, Flickr user Trocaire

Source: Wikimedia Commons, Flickr user Trocaire



View updates from J.R.

A little more than a week ago, Typhoon Haiyan, the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane and one of the most intense typhoons on record, devastated the Philippines. Some 11 million Filipinos have been affected, with many displaced or left homeless. Relief efforts are picking up, but many still lack food, water, shelter and health supplies.

J.R. Rowley, a PA at the Orthopedic Specialty Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah, who previously served in the Philippines as a missionary, received a call shortly after the disaster asking if he could help. Below is PAsConnect’s Q&A with Rowley as he packed supplies for his trip as part of a relief team with Charity Visions International.

How long have you been a PA?

I live in Salt Lake City—born and raised. I did search and rescue for 10 years and have EMT training. I became a PA approximately 10 years ago.

I previously served in a Church of Latter-day Saints (LDS) mission in the Philippines in one of the areas that was hit, Leyte. I speak Cebuano and Waray-Waray (two Filipino languages).

So your previous experience led to you going over there now?

Yes, I was actually selected because I’ve been there, speak the language, have search-and-rescue training and am now a PA in orthopaedics.

Charity Visions is our sponsoring group, and we’re plugged in with the Filipino government, Philippine Red Cross, the American Red Cross and LDS and Catholic Church humanitarian efforts.

There are 10 of us going as a team. There are two PAs, and most of the rest of the guys are physicians with the exception of one guy who’s a paramedic and fire captain.

Where are you going to be?

We’re flying into Cebu, and then we’re taking a C-130 airplane over to Ormoc city. I previously lived there.

We decided a week ago that Tacloban [one of the hardest-hit areas] was going to be too crazy with too many safety risks. So we’re going one village away from there. It’s about 30-50 miles away. We’re going to be based there and visit all the surrounding villages if we can.

Our trip has three goals:

  • Set up and analyze engineering efforts that will happen later on to clear roads, put up power lines, set up sanitation systems, etc.
  • Set up warehouses and safe houses where we can keep medical supplies and run medical clinics.
  • Organize the huge amount of humanitarian aid that’s on its way.

We have a big undertaking in the next week.

What are the challenges you face?

Well, we’re the first ones there. The challenge is that it’s a total disaster, and we have to establish all these locations and do everything without getting sick ourselves. We have to keep ourselves safe and fed.

How long will you be over there?

This is the first phase. We’re doing logistics for 7-10 days or a few weeks. Then there are 50 more people behind me coming in two weeks. And that’s just our small group. Now that we’re getting connected with the Red Cross and all these other big groups, there will be a large amount of traffic moving in and out of there that we have to set up for.

What kinds of health issues will you see?

It’s more than a week after the disaster, so we won’t be dealing with acute injuries. It will be more open wounds, festering wounds, genital/urinary tract infections, GI problems, diarrhea and every known illness that happens in these kinds of [conditions].

I’m carrying 50 pounds of medications—mostly antibiotics—in a duffel bag. Not sure how I’m going to get that through customs.

Have you done anything like this before?

No. But when I was a missionary in the Philippines before, I was involved in a typhoon. I spent five weeks burying dead, clearing roads and doing whatever medical stuff I could do with my limited EMT status at the time. I even delivered two babies.

How can people help?

Call the American Red Cross, Globus Relief (where you can donate supplies), Operation Smile and the charity group we’re with, Charity Visions International.

Best of luck to you, and stay safe.


J.R. Rowley is a physician assistant at the Orthopedic Specialty Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah.

See also: Physician Assistants Among First Responders at Boston Marathon Bombings

Updates from J.R.

Monday, Nov. 18

Monday news. Kris and I awoke at 5 a.m. after leaving Cebu at 3 a.m. We were taken to exam a reporter after we landed, and caught up at the hotel.  We dressed and set out to fill our gas cans for our backpacking stoves. We also stopped at Jollibees Bakery and purchased all their bread. We returned and met our group. The anticipation and nervous energy was palpable. We had member drivers take us first to rendezvous with our gear then exchange money. The Cebu temple is beautiful! I forgot how scary driving was here.  At the dock we met several aid groups who were trying to get to Ormoc City to help. The Canadian, Finnish and other branches of the Red Cross made it on the boat, but many others did not. It was scary how many times our bags tried to walk off.  It is hot, really muggy and crowded! The boat ride was pleasant and we offered The Red Cross shelter and aid as they had no plans in place.  As we approached Ormoc City the devastation of the land and buildings grew. Pontoon boats were 100 yards inland sitting on houses, and all the metal roofs were severely damaged. We were met at the dock by members who were waiting. We drove to the LDS (Latter-day Saints) stake center through the destruction. I was shocked at both the devastation of the beautiful city I once lived in, and how it was business as usual. The streets were filled with merchants and refugees. Power lines were everywhere. Thousands of houses were flat and garbage was everywhere.

Tuesday, Nov. 19

Big day yesterday. Awoke at 2 a.m. Walked a mile to market and saw up close the damage. Started clinic with the help of church members (20+ LDS helping hands).  I saw approx. 100 people. No lunch. Lots of cough and upper respiratory illness from smoke (burning garbage). Lots of wounds. Between all if us we treated 1,000 or more people. Went to bed very tired at 7p.m. I met a few people from my time here previously and had to choke back tears again and again. Four of us ran chain saws for 10 hours. Those guys got really dehydrated. We are splitting up to visit all the baranguys (villages). Hope to visit Isabel city soon. Solar power is saving us.

Wednesday, Nov. 20

Big day yesterday, traveled to two baranguys and treated many wounds and sick people. Lots of puncture wounds and injuries from the metal used for the roofs. Saw shingles on the face of a 1-year-old, large oil burn infected on a 12-year-old, and trench foot so bad I think three toes will need removing. On a different note, others traveled to Jaro and Alang Alang and the people were excited to hear my name and remembered me well. People I baptized are still active and doing OK. I really want to go to Isabel city badly but have not yet. I love and really miss my family. This is amazing!!

Friday, Nov. 22

Long day, sun burned and exhausted……Good morning, I’m going to Isabel city this morning. I’m so excited to see the members there! Last day to help….weary, sick, but getting back into the rhythm of the language and culture. I really wish you guys could see this; massive destruction and everything bleak for these people; however, they go on and on.

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