Sullivan Recognizes Teresa Gray as “Alaskan of the Week”

WASHINGTON—On the floor of the U.S. Senate yesterday, Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) recognized Teresa Gray, of Anchorage, the founder of Mobile Medics International, a nonprofit that dispatches medical professionals to hard-to-reach communities across the globe to assist victims of natural disasters and war. The organization now has 120 volunteer members, including several Alaskans, who have treated more than 30,000 people on five continents. Gray recently received a “CNN Hero” award for her work. Gray was recognized as part of Sen. Sullivan’s series, “Alaskan of the Week.”

Tribute to Teresa Gray 

Madam President, I want to say that it is Thursday, and it is my favorite time of week, 6 years' strong--almost 7 years--we have been doing our ``Alaskan of the Week'' series, and we love to do this because we get to recognize a special Alaskan, someone who makes the State very special.

Our pages, I think they don't always admit it, but it is probably the best speech of the week because it is interesting and we have got some cool stories. I know some of the reporters here like the speech because it means we are at the end of the week so that is good.

Today, we are honoring a really amazing Alaskan. Her name is Teresa Gray, of Anchorage, who was, by the way, recently featured by CNN as one of their heroes for the work her organization does that Teresa founded to provide medical help to people all over the globe. 

So, before I talk about Teresa and her amazing work, I always like to give a little update of what is going on in Alaska right now. I was home the last couple weeks traveling all over the State, and it didn't seem like too long ago when I had said: Hey, winter is coming. Winter is coming. Well, here is the good news. Well, I love winter, but winter is now leaving. It is leaving Alaska.

Now, it is cold in many places. My house in Anchorage still has snow on the ground, but the Sun is now up high in the sky, staying up longer and longer every single day--although I was in Fairbanks and we had northern lights going. So that was awesome just last week. But today, in Anchorage, the Sun rose at 6 a.m. and set around 10 p.m. So it is getting long. It is gaining. We gain about 5 minutes a day during this time of the year. Birds are migrating back by the tens of thousands. The excitement of spring is everywhere.

So to everybody watching, if you are thinking about great summer travel plans, Alaska is the place to be. So come on up. We would love to have you.

So, now, let me talk about Teresa Gray and the organization she founded called Mobile Medics International, which is doing great work across the globe, even as we speak. 

Teresa is originally from Michigan. As a paramedic, she moved to Alaska in 1999 to be with her then-husband who was from Alaska. And like so many do when they come to Alaska, she fell in love with Alaska. Now, she wasn't really an outdoorsy type, but she said:

I just felt at home.

It is the people that she loves. She said the State has such a unique group of individuals. 

We [all] share a kindred spirit. We're all committed to living the Alaska[n] way.

That is what Teresa said. And for Teresa, the Alaskan way has been to put her medical skills to use. Now, initially, she worked as an instructor at the only paramedic school in the State, but within 6 months, she bought the school and created two additional schools, one in Fairbanks and one in Wasilla, and made these very successful. Eight years later, she sold those to the University of Alaska. 

Then she became a flight medic for AeroMed, now known as LifeMed. She was a medical trainer for the Alaska Air National Guard unit, the 210th Rescue Squadron. These are very brave, intrepid PJs who do amazing work all over the State. And she also helped out with the Anchorage Fire Department.

When they again adopted a child, their second adopted child, Teresa decided it was time to retire. An aside here--one of Teresa's children, Boyd Jorgensen, was a U.S. marine under my command, with the great unit ECHO Company 4th Reconnaissance Battalion up in Anchorage. So Semper Fi, Staff Sergeant. I hope you are watching.

Let's talk about your mom.

That retirement for Teresa didn't last long. One day, she was watching the news, and she saw the image--and I think a lot of us remember this image--of a 3-year-old Syrian refugee on the beach of Lesbos, face down in the water. It was very powerful. People all over the world saw that really ghastly image. She thought: Why isn't anybody?

She realized, well, she should and she could. So she volunteered for an Irish medical nonprofit which took her to Greece and then to other places across the globe.

It didn't take her long to see a need that wasn't being filled. There are a great many medical nonprofits, but the general model is that the doctors and other medical professionals arrive at a place and set up shop. The people in need of care come to them.

But there are so many times Teresa witnessed people who couldn't leave their communities. In the case of Puerto Rico, there was a mudslide with limited access to a road that led to a village which hadn't received medical or any kind of help in over a week. People couldn't get a doctor there.

So, back in Alaska, she put a call out on social media, and soon, Mobile Medics International was born. The group is focused on mobility, on getting to the barrios, to the villages, up in the mountains--hard places to get to, where she said that ``[s]o many places are lost or forgotten in disasters'' because they are so hard to get to. 

Roughly, 5 years later, the group now has roughly 120 volunteers from across the globe, including from Alaska, on nearly every continent. They have been on over 30 missions. They are agile. They are expeditionary. They are like the Marines. When they go to a place that has been hit by disaster or to a place experiencing a refugee crisis, everything they need is in a backpack.

Teresa said: 

We can bring our own food, our own water, our own sleeping accommodations. We try to take basically an ambulance in the backpack.

Great image. Great idea.

If someone requires more extensive care, then they help get that individual to a medical facility, maybe in another part of the country. 

In addition to natural and humanitarian disasters, Mobile Medics International also trains people in medically underserved villages to provide treatment to others in their communities. So it is train the trainer. Teach someone to fish. 

They find people in those communities who are willing to commit to 5 years to build their own program in that community, and they support them during that time. They visit a few times a year, get them equipped, get them supplies, get them training, and then, all of a sudden, you have people in those communities who have these medical skills.

Teresa talked about her team once going to a remote island in the Philippines where, because of a lack of nutrition, this remote island and the population had a really bad problem with cleft-palate babies. ``Within three years,'' she said, ``we eliminated cleft-palate babies on that island by giving out prenatal vitamins.''

Think about that. That is incredible work--one American with a vision making a huge difference in a place like the Philippines. Great work.

So let's fast-forward to today. Where do you think she is? Where do you think they are?

Well, they are on the frontlines in Ukraine and Romania to help with the refugee crisis there. They have four teams there. They are providing a 24-hour clinic in Romania and go person-to-person to help with medical care. They have organized a warehouse of donated goods. They have delivered supplies into Ukraine, and they are providing emotional support to people who really need it because of the barbaric invasion that has happened there. 

For Teresa and her group, helping during a refugee crisis is particularly emotional and wrenching. She said: 

Natural disasters can be horrific. A refugee crisis is even more emotionally difficult. 

These are people who have lost everything, including their country, their heritage, and their language. 

She talked about how the Ukrainian refugee crisis is particularly challenging. ``All the men have been left behind,'' she said. You just have mothers, older men, young girls, and women whose entire life in Ukraine is now gone.

Her people do more than just medical care. They provide emotional support as well. When she traveled to Romania, there was an elderly woman whom she was treating for health issues. The woman asked for a different kind of help. She asked that she and her son be driven to the border so she could see Ukraine for the last time--a Ukrainian woman just wanting to see her country--and Teresa did that. 

``She asked for help, so we gave it to her,'' Teresa said.

This is a great example of the drive, determination, vision, and hard work of just one person. Think about it. One person, Teresa Gray, with a vision--and how that vision and drive can change lives--hundreds of lives, thousands of lives.

So, Teresa, thank you for providing so much help to so many. Congratulations for being chosen as a CNN hero; but more importantly, much more importantly--sorry, CNN--congratulations on being our Alaskan of the Week. You have really, really deserved it and made us all proud.

I yield the floor. 

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