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January 28, 2014

Three for Philippine relief

After typhoon, North Shore residents volunteer to help

The disastrous typhoon that struck the central Philippines last November was the ill wind that blew some good for some Filipinos. And three North Shore residents were part of the effort.

Dr. Stephen Gardner, 64, of Salem, and nurses Christine Liebert, 39, of Salem, and Garry Armentia, 41, of Peabody, were in a second wave of volunteer medical personnel sent for three weeks to deal with the calamity through Project Hope, a group with 50 years of experience in the Philippines. They were recruited via the Center for Global Health at Massachusetts General Hospital, where they work.

“Different people from different medical disciplines go,” Gardner said.

It was a special opportunity for Armentia, who hails from the Philippines. He saw the suffering on TV and resolved, “If I get the chance, I really want to help the people. ... It’s one of my dreams to help my countrymen.”

The opportunity was appreciated no less by Gardner, who previously served in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, and Liebert, who would find the Filipinos “the most generous, very kind people.”

The trio were part of a group of 18 sent on Dec. 21 to a mountainous area of Tacloban in the central Philippines. The people there hadn’t suffered as some coastal communities had, Armentia said, but trees were uprooted, power sources destroyed and crops ruined. A boy told of looking up to see his roof carried off. Others lost their homes and possessions.

“There was insomnia and anxiety,” said Liebert, a psychiatric nurse, the result of a storm greater than anyone had ever seen. “I did go over to help with post-traumatic stress disorder.” Happily, there was little of that, but the medicos found problems that would have existed regardless of Typhoon Yolanda, including diabetes, tuberculosis, hypertension and cancer.

Their efforts were limited. Liebert saw a mother whose daughter needed drugs to prevent a psychotic episode. Unfortunately, such drugs were unavailable.

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