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    The Knights of Columbus supplies oxygen for COVID-19 patients in remote regions of Brazil and Peru

    By Columbia staff 4/1/2021
    Bishop Giovanni Cefai of the Territorial Prelature of Santiago Apóstol de Huancané in Peru (center) stands with health care workers from the province of Puno, Feb. 26, after blessing oxygen cylinders donated by the Knights of Columbus. Photo by ACI Prensa


    When a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit Manaus, Brazil, in January, the situation became grim. The health care system in the city was overwhelmed, and thousands of patients were dying, in need of supplemental oxygen to help them breathe. With hospitals full, many people tried frantically to secure oxygen to care for family members at home.

    Father Charles Cunha da Silva, a priest in Manaus, recalled seeing the face of one young man carrying an empty oxygen cylinder that he was trying to fill.

    “His eyes said it all,” said Father da Silva, treasurer of the Archdiocese of Manaus. “It was the look of someone who was desperate.”

    Archbishop Leonardo Steiner of Manaus shared that desperation with the world Jan. 15, releasing a video in which he pleaded, “For the love of God, send us oxygen!”

    Then-Supreme Knight Carl Anderson responded immediately after hearing the plea, setting in motion the complicated logistical mission of delivering supplies to the city, deep in the Amazon. “In solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Amazon, we could not fail to act,” Anderson said.

    The initiative, which has also aided a region of southeastern Peru in a similar crisis, expanded in March to include the construction of a plant in northwestern Peru that will condense and concentrate oxygen. Altogether, the Order committed $400,000 to aid the largely Indigenous populations of these regions.

    “Breathing is so fundamental that we often take it for granted, and now we see men, women and children literally desperate for this basic necessity,” Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly said. “The Knights’ principle of charity impels us to act and provide resources necessary for our brothers and sisters in Christ to live through this global crisis.”

    The first part of the donation — nearly $250,000 worth of oxygen tanks, as well as oxygen concentrators — arrived in hard-hit areas of Brazil and Peru in February.

    More than 200 oxygen tanks donated by the Knights reached the city of Manaus, the capital of the Amazonas region of Brazil, Feb. 15 after a weeklong journey up the Amazon River.

    Archbishop Steiner conveyed his deep gratitude to the Knights when they arrived. “God bless you … and from the bottom of my heart thank you very much,” he said, adding, “Pray for us that we can face this difficult time, and that we don’t stop being a presence of a consoling, Samaritan Church.”

    The archdiocese gave most of the supplies to smaller municipalities in the region, including Manaquiri, Presidente Figueiredo and Rio Preto da Eva, where the need was even more acute.

    “The surrounding areas had a hard time, because there were no beds, no equipment, no oxygen, and there was no one to speak for us,” explained Aila Carla da Costa Bernardino, health secretary of Rio Preto da Eva, which is 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Manaus. “You see someone asking for help, asking not to let them die, and there’s nothing you can do. … When I received the call from [the archdiocese] saying that we were going to receive the donation of 10 cylinders, it was of great importance, and brought much happiness.”

    Meanwhile, 50 more oxygen tanks, plus 15 oxygen concentrators, were on their way to the Territorial Prelature of Santiago Apóstol de Huancané in southeastern Peru. The Supreme Council learned of the need there while planning aid to Manaus.

    Puno, the province where the prelature is located, had seen nearly 25,000 coronavirus cases and 650 deaths by mid-March, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

    The cylinders arrived in Huancané on Feb. 23 and were soon delivered to medical authorities after being blessed by Bishop Giovanni Cefai.

    A volunteer unpacks one of the oxygen concentrators donated by the Knights of Columbus to the Territorial Prelature of Santiago Apóstol de Huancané in Peru. Photo by ACI Prensa/ Diego López Marina


    “Words really fail me to thank our brother Knights of Columbus,” said Bishop Cefai, a member of the Missionary Society of St. Paul. “I don’t know how to express what is going on in both my mind and heart, because each oxygen tank represents a patient breathing, thanks be to God, pulling away from death and breathing life.”

    The bishop stressed, “If we save just one life, all the effort is worth it.”

    One life saved by the K of C donation is that of Elvira Claros. Her daughter, Lourdes Machicao Claros, came to Bishop Cefai in tears, asking him to help her obtain an oxygen concentrator to save her mother. The entire family had come down with COVID-19, but her mother was the most affected and required a concentrator to survive.

    “If we hadn’t gotten it, my mom would have been laid to rest, but now she’s fine, thanks to the concentrator,” said Machicao, a nurse in Puno. “Now she’s recovering satisfactorily. I am deeply grateful for this and to this organization that had the courage and willingness to donate and save lives.”

    The head of the Huancané Healthcare Network affirmed the crucial role that oxygen plays in treating COVID-19.

    “In this pandemic, oxygen therapy is a vital treatment to sustain patients in critical condition and so they don’t have to be intubated,” explained Dr. Henry Núñez García, a surgeon.

    The final phase of the K of C initiative is now helping the Archdiocese of Piura, Peru, establish a reliable supply of this valuable medical resource. A commitment of $146,000 has allowed the archdiocese to begin construction of at least one new plant to concentrate oxygen. A plant scheduled to be completed in May is expected to fill nearly 50 10m3 oxygen tanks daily.

    Peru has the second-highest COVID-19 case-fatality ratio in the world, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. As of mid-March, the country had recorded 48,484 COVID-19 deaths from 1,394,571 cases, a fatality rate of 3.5% — almost twice the rate seen in the United States.

    Statistics tell part of the story, but as Bishop Cefai reminded the doctors and other health care workers who attended the blessing of the oxygen delivery in late February, “Patients are not numbers; they are people.”

    He added, “Love them, because maybe some of them will die in your arms. Accompany them humanely and put into action this human value which we had almost forgotten before the pandemic began.”


    Diego López Marina of ACI Prensa/Catholic News Agency contributed to this story.



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