By KATE DUGAN
Valdez Communications Manager
Alyeska Pipeline Service Company
On Sunday, April 28, I stood on the deck of the tug/barge combo Krystal Sea/Cordova Provider for the Prince William Sound community of Tatitlek. The sun was shining, the winds calm, and I was surrounded by an enthusiastic group of health and wellness care providers. As we motored out of Port Valdez, everyone was outside taking pictures and laughing; a good start to an important event.
For the last 13 years, Alyeska has sponsored and supported the Prince William Sound Traveling Health and Safety Fair. For eight days, the Krystal Sea brings vital health and wellness services to communities of Cordova, Whittier, Chenega Bay, Tatitlek and Valdez. Our theme this year was “Healing our whole selves,” and the trip focused on health and well-being in all aspects of life, from blood pressure to nutrition, exercise, boating safety, music and meditation.
There was a 6:15 a.m. provider meeting each morning to go over the day’s schedule and discuss any safety concerns. Then medical professionals set up screening equipment in the schools so that community members could drop by to track their blood pressure, cholesterol levels and other important health information. This year, the group screened over 100 community members- a great success!
We also brought along mobile mammogram unit. The “Mammo Van” is supplied by long-time partner the Breast Cancer Detection Center of Fairbanks. For women in these small rural communities, getting their annual mammogram means an expensive trip to Anchorage. This year, we were able to save 17 women that cost.
Providers headed into classrooms in Tatitlek, Chenega and Whittier to talk to students about drugs and alcohol, suicide, nutrition and other issues that are brought up by teachers beforehand. These are not easy subjects to discuss, and the volunteers had to be focused and prepared to confront difficult problems that bubble up in such small communities. I was so impressed with the grace, humor and compassion that the care providers wield in these classroom sessions.
Beyond the scheduled activities -there were easily over 50 of them- there were the smaller, quieter moments in the villages that I will remember most: teaching the two preschoolers in Tatitlek why some chords sound “scary” and some “happy,” watching the newly-formed Whittier dance team perform Maroon 5’s “Moves like Jagger”, and holding multiple babies in Chenega so their moms could eat or craft with both hands. When the tug returned Valdez, the weather had turned from spring back to winter, but the snow couldn’t dampen my mood. I was energized and proud that Alyeska sponsors such a special program, and that I have the privilege to tag along.
A big thanks to our partners at Providence Medical Center, Bering Marine, Chugachmiut, Cordova Family Resource Center, Breast Cancer Detection Center, Advocates for Victims of Violence and the State of Alaska.