Puerto Rico’s crisis inspires stay-at-home mom to fly out the sick and injured

PONCE, Puerto Rico — The figure of a young woman silhouetted by the airplane window behind her hunched over to the side, murmuring in Spanish, “Oh, my baby. My little baby.” She pulled back a tiny pink blanket that covered a little girl from head to toe. Tiny curled feet came into view. Machines beeped in the background.

The mother pulled out two booties a shade darker than the blanket, and carefully slipped them on her daughter. She gripped the hand that was not bound by tubes: “There, my baby,” she said. “All better.”

A few rows down sat a frail man with his niece, who was restless, talking a mile a minute with her hands reaching towards the sky like the curled ringlets that crowned her head. “Relax,” the man told her, his booming voice emanating from his thin frame. The girl paused, and took to staring out of the airplane window instead.

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METHUEN, MA - OCTOBER 14: A volunteer holds an eight-week-old Puerto Rican puppy named Pedro at Nevins Farm, an MSPCA animal shelter, on October 14, 2017 in Methuen, Massachusetts. The MSPCA facility brought eight dogs from hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico's animal shelters for families in the area to adopt - seven puppies and one senior dog. More applications came in than dogs. (Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
WESTBROOK, ME - OCTOBER 12: 25 dogs and one cat arrived at the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland Thursday morning following a long flight from Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rican shelter All Sato Rescue set the dogs to shelters in New England as the island struggles to recover from Hurricane Maria. 'Angeles' is one of the dogs from Puerto Rico now at the shelter. (Photo by John Ewing/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
METHUEN, MA - OCTOBER 14: Aracelis Rosario hugs Pedro, an eight-week-old Puerto Rican puppy. at Nevins Farm, an MSPCA animal shelter, on October 14, 2017 in Methuen, Massachusetts. The MSPCA facility brought eight dogs from hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico's animal shelters for families in the area to adopt - seven puppies and one senior dog. More applications came in than dogs. Mrs. Rosario, who is originally from Puerto Rico, hopes to be chosen to take Pedro home. (Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
METHUEN, MA - OCTOBER 14: Kathy Lombardi holds Mario, a four-month-old Puerto Rican puppy, at Nevins Farm, an MSPCA animal shelter, on October 14, 2017 in Methuen, Massachusetts. The MSPCA facility brought eight dogs from hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico's animal shelters for families in the area to adopt - seven puppies and one senior dog. More applications came in than dogs. Ms. Lombardi hoped to be chosen to take Mario home. (Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
METHUEN, MA - OCTOBER 14: The Vasquez family meets an eight-week-old Puerto Rican puppy named Pepe at Nevins Farm, an MSPCA animal shelter, on October 14, 2017 in Methuen, Massachusetts. The MSPCA facility brought eight dogs from hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico's animal shelters for families in the area to adopt - seven puppies and one senior dog. More applications came in than dogs. The family hopes to be chosen to take Pepe home. (Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
WESTBROOK, ME - OCTOBER 12: 25 dogs and one cat arrived at the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland Thursday morning following a long flight from Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rican shelter All Sato Rescue set the dogs to shelters in New England as the island struggles to recover from Hurricane Maria. Katie Webber, a canine animal care staffer at the shelter, gets one of the dogs, 'Borys' (cq) outdoors for a little exercise. (Photo by John Ewing/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
METHUEN, MA - OCTOBER 11: MSPCA staffers Meaghan O'Leary and Erica Leonard hold a littler of five 8-week-old puppies rescued from storm-ravaged Puerto Rico in Methuen, MA on Oct. 11, 2017. The dogs will be put up for adoption. (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
METHUEN, MA - OCTOBER 14: Aracelis Rosario hugs Pedro, an eight-week-old Puerto Rican puppy, at Nevins Farm, an MSPCA animal shelter, on October 14, 2017 in Methuen, Massachusetts. The MSPCA facility brought eight dogs from hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico's animal shelters for families in the area to adopt - seven puppies and one senior dog. More applications came in than dogs. Mrs. Rosario, who is originally from Puerto Rico, hopes to be chosen to take Pedro home. (Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
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For most of the plane ride, however, there was quiet. The rumble of the engines became a soothing lull, and depending on which section of the airplane, hushed conversation, the chatter of children or sniffling could be heard. Hours earlier, when the same flight left from Miami Opa-Locka Executive Airport to the Mercedita Airport in Puerto Rico, the sound of the engines were there as well — but mixed with the lively Spanish of 30 medical personnel and four volunteers, all organized by the nonprofit Warrior Angels Rescue, discussing what they would do once they landed in the town of Ponce.

But in the exciting air, there lingered a bit of tense silence, from one woman seated close to the cockpit. As the coast of Puerto Rico slowly came into view, she trembled. “I have to pull myself together,” she muttered. “But that,” she said shaking her head, eyes looking down below, “that doesn’t look right.”

She paused. “It looks like someone took our island, and shook it violently.”

RELATED: Puerto Rico's damage from above

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Puerto Rico's damage from above
Buildings damaged by Hurricane Maria are seen in Lares, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Remains of a shed is scattered over a basketball court after Hurricane Maria near Loiza, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
The contents of a damaged home can be seen as recovery efforts continue following Hurricane Maria near the town of Comerio, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Buildings and trees damaged by the winds of Hurricane Maria are seen near Lares, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
A damaged home is seen as recovery efforts continue following Hurricane Maria near Orocovis, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
A damaged home is seen among blown down trees following Hurricane Maria in San Sebastian, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Sand is seen along a road after being pushed there by Hurricane Maria near Loiza, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
The contents of a damaged home can be seen as recovery efforts continue following Hurricane Maria near the town of Comerio, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Buildings damaged by Hurricane Maria are seen in Lares, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Trees damaged by the winds of Hurricane Maria are seen in a valley near Lares, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Plywood is used on buildings to repair damage from Hurricane Maria near Loiza, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Residents fill containers with water from a creek as recovery efforts continue following Hurricane Maria near the town of Comerio, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Residents fill containers with water from a creek as recovery efforts continue following Hurricane Maria near town of Comerio, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
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Valerie Edmondson Bolaños was born in the town of Isabella, and she named her 3-year old daughter after the city. She was flying to Puerto Rico for the first time since Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit, but the organization she recently founded, Warrior Angels Rescue, had raised tens of thousands of dollars online to charter private planes to evacuate medically ill people from the ravaged island. She has successfully relocated over 150 patients and passengers so far. A stay-at-home mom from Santa Monica, Calif., this will be her first time flying on one of the dozens of planes she has chartered, and her first time back in Puerto Rico in a year.

Slideshow: Puerto Rico 1 month after Hurricane Maria >>>

It all started when she had lost contact with her cousin after Hurricane Maria. “We went 31 hours without communication after the storm hit.” As Maria was passing over the island, Bolaños herself was dealing with a family crisis in Los Angeles: Her sister Vivian was in critical condition at the hospital after suffering life-threatening complications from childbirth. “At that moment, I really did think my sister was going to die.”

“I had to get them out of there. But every commercial flight I booked kept falling through. Flight after flight after flight — it was pointless, meaningless,” Bolaños said. She looked into chartering a boat, but a man who owned a rental boat company said it would be practically impossible to dock a boat near the town where her family lived. She recalled the man asking, “‘Why don’t you look into chartering a plane instead?’”

RELATED: Military helicopter teams bring aid to Puerto Rico

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Military helicopter teams bring aid to Puerto Rico
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Military helicopter teams bring aid to Puerto Rico
A woman and child walk away as soldiers in a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade deliver food and water during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria in Verde de Comerio, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado from the U.S. Army's First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade, and from Puerto Rico, speaks with residents to ascertain their needs during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. Picture taken October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado, who is from Puerto Rico, inspects the rear rotor of a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade, and from Puerto Rico, speaks with residents to ascertain their needs during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. Picture taken October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade, and from Puerto Rico speaks with residents to get a list of their needs during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria in Verde de Comerio, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. Picture taken October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Crew member Bynum stands in tropical rain as a HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit prepares to take off during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Isla Grande, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Tropical rain splashes on a runway as HH-60 Blackhawk helicopters from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit wait for weather to clear during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Isla Grande, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Soldiers from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade prepare in their sleeping quarters during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria at their base in Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, Puerto Rico, October 8, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A soldier from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade prepares in his sleeping quarters during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria at their base in Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, Puerto Rico, October 8, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Pilot Eldwin Bocanegra Torres speaks with residents isolated by landslides in the mountains after unloading water and food from a helicopter during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, near Utuado, Puerto Rico, October 10, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
An HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit takes off behind Crew Chief Alexander Blake and his fellow soldiers during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Morovis, Puerto Rico, October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Crew chief Kenney shelters under the blade of an HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit preparing to take off during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Isla Grande, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Pilot Joseph Swift prepares for a night flight on an HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A man carries a case of water away from an HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter after soldiers working with 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit dropped off relief supplies during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Jayuya, Puerto Rico, October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Residents wait for soldiers in UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade to deliver food and water during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter pilot Chris Greenway receives a hug from a woman thanking him for water as he works with the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Verde de Comerio, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
The contents of a home are seen from the air during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria near Utuado, Puerto Rico, October 10, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
An HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit lands in a field to avoid lightning during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Manati, Puerto Rico, October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Soldier Thomas looks out of the window of an HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit, loaded with relief supplies, during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria in Isla Grande, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Residents stand in front of wind-damaged trees as they wait for soldiers in UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade to deliver food and water during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Residents hold their hands aloft to signal that they need water as UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade fly past during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, near Ciales, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A message written on the rooftop is seen from the air during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria near Humacao, Puerto Rico, October 10, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado, who is from Puerto Rico, looks for a landing spot for a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade, during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria near Ciales, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Crew chief Alexander Blake from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit loads water into a helicopter during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Isla Grande, Puerto Rico October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
An HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit lands in a field during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria in San Sebastian, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade, who is from Puerto Rico, speaks with residents as he helps during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Boys carry water away from an HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter after soldiers working with the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit dropped off relief supplies during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Jayuya, Puerto Rico, October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Residents peek through a fence at helicopters from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit that had parked in a locked field during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Lares, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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Bolaños reached out to her friends, and one put her in contact with the charter company her workplace used for business trips. The first flight she chartered was a six-seater that would have cost $5,000 a seat. “I already paid for the whole plane, and four of those seats would be filled by my aunt, cousin and her two boys,” she said. The two empty seats, however, weighed on her mind. “Hearing how bad things were on the island, I just couldn’t let the plane leave knowing there were two seats we could’ve given to people in need.” She was able to find a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy who needed medical attention and her young son to fill those seats back to the mainland.

Now, with a $250,000 grant from the Hispanic Federation, Bolaños found herself organizing her volunteers with Mindo Futures, a Latin American medical aid group, on her biggest trip yet to provide medical assistance to — and rescue hurricane evacuees from — Puerto Rico. She disappeared into the airport hangar, reappeared, weaved among a group of volunteers back to the pilot, pulled out her phone and checked her screen, dialing numbers and picking up calls. A bright Florida sun beat down on the airport.

Hours later, in the air, Bolaños choked up when she saw the damage of Hurricane Maria from the window. “You just have to think,” she said, as she motioned to the destruction below, “that the people who lived in those houses — they’re empty now, but the people who lived in those houses were inside when those roofs came off and when the water came through and filled it up. And we don’t know whether those people got out, whether they stayed inside, or whether they stayed inside and didn’t survive.”

RELATED: Donald Trump's visit to Puerto Rico

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Donald Trump's visit to Puerto Rico
CAROLINA, PUERTO RICO - OCTOBER 03: President Donald Trump and Melania Trump greet U.S Air Force airmen as he arrives at the Muniz Air National Guard Base as he makes a visit after Hurricane Maria hit the island on October 3, 2017 in Carolina, Puerto Rico. The President has been criticized by some that say the government's response has been inadequate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump throws rolls of paper towels into a crowd of local residents affected by Hurricane Maria as he visits Calgary Chapel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump talks with Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello (L) as they take their seats for a briefing on hurricane relief efforts in a hangar at Muniz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump visits with residents while visiting Puerto Rico to survey relief efforts following Hurricane Maria in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017 REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he walks through a neighborhood damaged by Hurricane Maria with first lady Melania Trump as the president tours hurricane damage in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump talks with residents as first lady Melania Trump (C) and U.S. Rep and Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico Jenniffer Gonzalez (R) look on as the president visits areas damaged by Hurricane Maria in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump greets troops as he arrives aboard Air Force One, to survey hurricane damage, at Muniz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz before a briefing to survey hurricane damage, at Muniz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump, sitting between Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello and first lady Melania Trump, sits down to a briefing on hurricane damage, at Muniz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump depart the White House in Washington, U.S., on their way to view storm damage in Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump throws rolls of paper towels into a crowd of local residents affected by Hurricane Maria as he visits Calgary Chapel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump (L), wearing boots, arrive aboard Air Force One, to survey hurricane damage, at Muniz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visit residents affected by Hurricane in Guaynabo, west of San Juan, Puerto Rico on October 3, 2017. Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria thrashed through the US territory, much of the islands remains short of food and without access to power or drinking water. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visit residents affected by Hurricane in Guaynabo, west of San Juan, Puerto Rico on October 3, 2017. Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria thrashed through the US territory, much of the islands remains short of food and without access to power or drinking water. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump throws rolls of paper towels to a crowd of local residents affected by Hurricane Maria as he visits a disaster relief distribution center at Calgary Chapel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump greet troops as they depart the USS Kearsarge off the coast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump talks with local residents during a walking tour of areas damaged by Hurricane Maria in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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When the flight landed, the doctors broke up into groups and awaited transport to their hard-to-reach destinations. Bolaños, meanwhile, had trouble locating hospital patients she was told were already inside Mercedita Airport. “There are always challenges to it,” she said of coordinating these missions. “Communication is spotty and unreliable.” She decided to send her friend Joaquin to see if he could find anyone in Ponce who would be willing to take some of the empty seats in the plane. That effort, however, was futile, because although Ponce did suffer damage and cellphone service, power and water were hard to come by, residents were clear: They had no plans to leave. “This is all they know, and they are still traumatized from it, so they want to be home, even though home doesn’t even exist anymore.”

In Puerto Rico, just 20 percent of the population has had their electric power restored. The government said most of the island will regain electricity by the end of the year, but some residents don’t find that estimate likely. “I don’t think it’ll come back until January or February,” predicted Juan Carlos Cruz, a passenger on the plane. Cruz went on to say that things are very slow in Puerto Rico: “The news reported [on] … rations to the island that never arrived to their destinations because they were stolen. It’s a very sad situation.” As food prices rise and water, electricity, medicine and reliable communication methods become more difficult to acquire, Puerto Ricans are faced with the tough decision on relocating to the U.S. mainland, and whether they should do so permanently.

Slideshow: In the wake of Maria: Aerial views of devastation in Puerto Rico >>>

Eventually Bolaños was able to locate the patients and their families waiting in the airport, and in three hours, the 64-seater was on its way back to Miami with the medically ill, the distraught, the pensive and the scared — but most of all, the silent.

RELATED: Puerto Rico's mail carriers emerge as heroes

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Puerto Rico's mail carriers emerge as heroes
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Puerto Rico's mail carriers emerge as heroes
Alfredo Martinez, a mail man for the U.S. Postal Service delivers the mail at an area damaged by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. Picture Taken October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Alfredo Martinez, a mail man for the U.S. Postal Service delivers the mail at an area affected by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. Picture Taken October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Alfredo Martinez, a mail man for the U.S. Postal Service delivers the mail at an area damaged by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. Picture Taken October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Alfredo Martinez, a mail man for the U.S. Postal Service delivers the mail at an area damaged by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. Picture Taken October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
A local resident receives a package from the U.S. Postal Service at an area affected by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. Picture Taken October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Luis Menendez, a mail man for the U.S. Postal Service, delivers mail at an area affected by Hurricane Maria in the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. Picture Taken October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Luis Menendez, a mail man for the U.S. Postal Service, delivers mail at an area affected by Hurricane Maria in the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. Picture Taken October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Luis Menendez, a mail man for the U.S. Postal Service, delivers mail at an area affected by Hurricane Maria in the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. Picture Taken October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
A U.S. Postal Service truck is seen at an area damaged by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. Picture Taken October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Alfredo Martinez, a mail man for the U.S. Postal Service delivers the mail at an area damaged by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. Picture Taken October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
A local resident reacts as a mail man from the U.S. Postal Service arrives at her house at an area affected by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. Picture Taken October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
A U.S. Postal Service office sign is seen at a damaged area of San Juan after Hurricane Maria, in Puerto Rico, October 5, 2017. Picture Taken October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Alfredo Martinez, a mail man for the U.S. Postal Service delivers the mail at an area damaged by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. Picture Taken October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. Postal Service trucks are seen under heavy rain, weeks after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. Picture Taken October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Juan Rivera, from the U.S. Postal Service, picks up the mail at an area affected by Hurricane Maria in the island of Culebra, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. Picture Taken October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Juan Rivera, from the U.S. Postal Service, picks up the mail at an area affected by Hurricane Maria in the island of Culebra, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. Picture Taken October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Luis Menedez, a mail man for the U.S. Postal Service, delivers mail at an area affected by Hurricane Maria in the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. Picture Taken October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Luis Menendez, a mail man for the U.S. Postal Service, receives mail by boat at a narea affected by Hurricane Maria in the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. Picture Taken October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Luis Menendez, a mail man for the U.S. Postal Service, delivers mail at an area affected by Hurricane Maria in the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. Picture Taken October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. Postal Service Police officers deliver mail at Vieques island, weeks after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, in Vieques, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. Picture Taken October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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The 48 people on board took the one chance they could to leave Puerto Rico. Some were coming to the mainland for medical attention that their local hospitals, crippled without electricity, could not give. Others were hoping to stay with family members for a while. A few were ready to start their lives anew. The mother of a little girl connected to a respiratory machine said, “[Here] she’ll have a better quality of life. In Puerto Rico, she won’t.”

Bolaños saw the passengers come out of the plane — some crying and hugging their family members on the tarmac, and others leaving in stretchers being wheeled to waiting ambulances.

She said one thing remained clear: “I will keep doing this until the need no longer exists.”

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