Medtronic employees who lost it all in Hurricane Maria find strength in helping others.
October 9, 2017 -- When Ricardo Martinez Matos opened the front door of his home in the mountains above Villalba, Puerto Rico, he stepped into – nothing. “Everything is gone,” he said sadly, and then walked inside.
There is no roof. Three walls are standing, but the fourth – in the back of the house and overlooking the valley below – vanished amid Hurricane Maria’s destructive winds. He stands in what used to be his kitchen and looks out over wide open space. Everything he owns is either scattered down the mountainside, or piled in ruins inside what’s left of his house. What should be a breathtaking view for its beauty is now breathtaking for its devastation.
“This house stood strong for 25 years,” he said. “It survived Hurricanes George and Hugo. But it could not stand up to Irma and Maria, back to back.”
Martinez Matos vows to rebuild. He spends his afternoons salvaging what he can from the debris. But in the mornings, he’s on the job at Medtronic. With the company for 20 years, he’s a certified laser welder who works on leads for Medtronic pacemakers. He insisted on working following the hurricane, so Medtronic arranged special hours so he could work in the mornings and deal with personal affairs in the afternoon.
“My father taught me to have balance in your life,” he said. “Do things for yourself, yes. But also do things for others. People all around the world rely on us to do this work. I want to do it.”
Villalba was Medtronic’s first facility in Puerto Rico, established by Medtronic co-founder Earl Bakken decades ago. Today, employees proudly point out that the original building – which was a barn when Bakken first saw it – was the only one of the three production facilities now on the Villalba campus that weathered Hurricane Maria intact.
While virtually all Medtronic employees are dealing with some sort of hurricane damage, at least four dozen Villalba workers lost everything. Medtronic is making additional efforts to help those workers – with emergency funds, additional food and water, and guidance with FEMA paperwork and regulations.
Minerva Ortiz Bonilla is one of them. She’s taking advantage of a different type of help. She’s had a hard time dealing with the stress; Hurricane Maria tore up the roof and badly damaged her house. She came back to work because she knows she’s helping others, but she needs a hand too.
“The help that I’m getting from Medtronic has been great,” she said. “I got a generator to get electricity back to my home. And the company is also providing us with counselors to help us cope with what’s been happening. I’m very grateful.”
The need for help is great in Villalba. Employees stand in long lines for cases of bottled water. “I have two children at home and water is very important for cooking and drinking,” said Lisandra Torres Rivera, as she carried a case of water to her car.
Volunteers have also handed out hundreds of boxes of food and dozens of generators to power homes.
“If you think about how big the job is, you can get overwhelmed,” said human resources generalist Denise Girod. “I get strength from them. When you ask people who lost their houses ‘how are you doing,’ they say ‘I’m OK. I’m alive.’ So for me to complain about how big the task is just not an option.”
Ricardo Martinez Matos feels the same way. As he picks through the rubble, he finds a family memento, a crucifix, that should have blown away, but instead came to rest on the roof of his storm-damaged car. He intends to leave it there a while longer.
“What does it mean?” he is asked. He paused for a moment. “It means good things are ahead.”