PORT RICHEY — When Typhoon Haiyan slammed into her native country, Girlie Garnada spent the next day in tears as she watched the horrifying images on television.
"Seeing those bodies on the side of the road, I couldn't imagine if I was there," she said.
Her immediate family was spared, but she wondered what happened to some other relatives.
Finally she saw a familiar face: her husband's cousin, Annaliz Kwan, the former mayor of the city of Guinan, pleading for aid.
"That was the only way I could make sure she was safe," Garnada said. "She was crying, begging for food, begging for water."
That marked the turning point for Garnada, a 42-year-old intensive care nurse at Medical Center of Trinity. She canceled plans to take a 19th wedding anniversary cruise to the Bahamas with her husband. After joining with some co-workers to raise $1,000 at a garage sale, she left as part of a national nurses group headed for the Philippines to offer health care to typhoon victims.
"I cry for my people. I cannot watch the devastation on television anymore, I have to be there to help," she said recently.
As part of the National Nurses United's Registered Nurse Response Network, Garnada will join about 3,000 RNs from all 50 states and 19 nations who have volunteered to assist with the relief project for Haiyan.
Her team was the third group of registered nurse volunteers that went to the Philippines late last month. It followed a team that arrived Nov. 25 and set up mobile clinics in Roxas City on northern end of the island of Panay, which was in the direct path of the storm.
Garnada and the others are already at work providing basic medical care at rotating mobile clinics in barangays (districts or neighborhoods) around Roxas City including in a ruined chapel, a local gym and other sites, in conjunction with local public health officials, physicians, a church and other community supporters.
In the first day of the mobile clinic's operation last month, 300 residents lined up for a variety of medical care. The volunteers assessed and treated injuries and illnesses, provided wound care, gave shots and other medical intervention, according to National Nurses United, the union that is overseeing the program.
"People have lost their homes, lost their livelihood. They need medical care. They lack medicine, lack nurses, lack doctors. In each area we go to this is their plea, to help with medications and medical assistance," said nurse Joseph Catindig, who returned from his deployment.
"They are asking for help. We're communicating with the whole the world for them, back home. They are not alone. We're telling them about all the nurses that have signed up to help. They are a strong people; they know they can rebuild," Michelle Vo, another member who has been on the ground, told the union.
Garnada, who is using vacation time for the relief effort, plans to return to Pasco later this month. She said she will have to reschedule the anniversary celebration with college sweetheart Gino Garnada. But he doesn't mind.
"My husband has been so supportive," she said. "All my money has been spent helping people. We'll have to save up again."