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Medical Bridges: Helping to Bridge the Gap in Medical Needs in Ukraine

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Volunteers

Volunteers helping out in the Medical Bridges sort room. 

The world has watched in disbelief and horror at the atrocities the Ukraine people have endured since Russia invaded their country. Local response to Ukrainian relief has shown, once again, that Houstonians do indeed have Texas-sized hearts to serve others at home and around the world. Houston-based nonprofit Medical Bridges is one such organization helping the cause.

Medical Bridges is a recycling program which collects excess hospital supplies and sends them to healthcare providers in less-fortunate countries. The nonprofit was created in 1997 by West University residents Dr. Patricia Brock Howard, Dr. Margaret Goetz, and engineer Hayne Blakely

Consulate General touring

Consulate General of Ukraine in Houston Vitalii Tarasiuk (second from right) toured Medical Bridges with his team, including Emil Pena (CEO of Generation Power, whose wife is Ukrainian) and Andrii Protsan (Specialist of Ukraine Consular issues). Far left: Valenii Kolowiyets, a Ukrainian-Houstonian volunteer from DAAR Charitable Foundation, shared his concerns about family members still in Ukraine.

In the United States, unused medical items like gauze, syringes, surgical caps, and gowns are often discarded simply because the packaging has been opened. Equipment may be considered outdated and require being replaced by newer technology. These medical resources are often discarded even though these supplies are desperately needed elsewhere. Over the past two decades years, Medical Bridges has distributed in-kind medical donations to 90 countries. In 2021, the organization delivered $7.6 million worth of supplies and equipment.

Founder Dr. Brock Howard shared, “Being involved with Medical Bridges for 25 years has revealed the kindness and generosity that exists within our city and its citizens who have a heart to serve others throughout the world.”

When the Ukraine conflict began, Medical Bridges pivoted to a full emergency response to support the people of Ukraine. According to its marketing manager Claudette Ferro, the first week was focused on learning about the immediate medical needs of the community and partnering with Ukrainian organizations to help receive and distribute humanitarian aid.

Walter Ulrich, Michael Bleyzer, Natasha Bleyzer,

Pictured, from left: Walter Ulrich, CEO and president of Medical Bridges, and Ukrainian natives Michael and Natasha Bleyzer, founders of DAAR Charitable Foundation at the Medical Bridges sort room. 

“While all of this was taking place, our sort-room team members organized and packed ER and trauma care supplies while our global health team was researching and making calls to get our shipment size and weight approved to be flown into Poland and driven to Ukraine,” she said. 

Claudette continued, “Thanks to generous Ukrainian-Houstonian volunteers and partners such as the DAAR Charitable Foundation (DAAR means gift in Ukrainian), Houston for Ukraine,  and an anonymous donor, we were able to sort, pack, and ship four pallets.” The first shipment of donated emergency room and trauma supplies was airlifted to Ukraine on March 11. 

Recently, Vitalii Tarasiuk, General Consul of Ukraine in Houston, and his team toured the Medical Bridges warehouse for a better understanding of the steps being taken to provide essential medical supplies to his country. A few days later, the Medical Bridges team was invited to speak at SXSW in Austin. They relayed their efforts in Ukraine at the Invest & Innovate event at the European House at the Native Bar and Café in Austin. 
 
Medical Bridges is also partnering with Texas A&M University's BUILD program and Heaven’s Reach Ministries in Romania to contribute innovative ways for medical staff to provide aid to Ukrainian refugees. 

Portable medical clinic

TNT Crane and Rigging helps load a 40-foot-long medical clinic container created by Texas A&M's University's BUILD program. The clinics will be shipped to Romania where Heaven's Reach Ministries will aid Ukrainian refugees.

BUILD is a student-led organization in which A&M students build and send out portable medical clinics around the world in honor of those who lost their lives in the collapse of the Aggie Bonfire in 1999. Participants work to convert 40-foot-long used shipping containers into fully functional two-patient medical clinics. This week, Medical Bridges is shipping two of these portable medical clinics. One container is headed to central Romania and the second will be stationed on the border near Ukraine where Heaven’s Reach Ministries will be able to assist many refugees. Medical Bridges was thankful that their Houston warehouse neighbors, TNT Crane and Rigging, assisted with the shipping process by providing their equipment and staff to load the clinic containers onto the truck. 

“Medical care and health care are the most fundamental of needs. Hospitals are being damaged and destroyed in Ukraine, and healthcare facilities in neighboring countries are being overwhelmed,” stated Walter Ulrich, Medical Bridges' president and CEO. “Thanks to the generosity of Houstonians, Medical Bridges is privileged to fill the gap with desperately needed medical supplies and lifesaving equipment, air freighting it to the people of Ukraine. While we pray for peace, we supply those in danger in Ukraine.”
 

Garner Kelling, Marin Kelling, Avery Kelling,

From left: Garner, Marin, and Avery Kelling spent part of their spring break helping to sort and package medical supplies being sent to Ukranians in need. 

So far, Medical Bridges has shipped $130,000 worth of ER and trauma supplies to help wounded families in need of immediate medical care. The shipments have been flown to Warsaw and then will make their way to several locations in Ukraine. Another six shipments of lifesaving medical aid such as sutures, gloves, tourniquets, dressings, and more are scheduled to be sent this week and next. 

Medical Bridges is seeking sponsors across multidisciplinary industries to help ship three or four 40-foot cargos per month of medical equipment and supplies to Ukraine throughout the year. Medical Bridges will continue to help sustain and rebuild health in Ukraine with monthly shipments of three to four 40-foot cargos containing medical equipment and supplies throughout the year.

Claudette Ferro

Marketing manager Claudette Ferro at SXSW sharing Medical Bridge’s work in supplying Ukrainian doctors and nurses with lifesaving medical supplies to treat injured civilians and families. 

Interested in helping Medical Bridges? See a list of urgently needed medical supplies here. Donation drop-off times are Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Currently, Medical Bridges is at capacity in terms of volunteers but sign up to find out about future volunteer opportunities here.

Editor’s note: Read more on Houston organizations and restaurants supporting Ukraine here and a list of ways to help efforts in Ukraine here.

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