|Kelly Suter with the first baby she had ever delivered.|
This is the first article in a series entitled “Inside the Apostle.”
It was nighttime in Haiti, and Kelly Suter,
a volunteer Emergency Room nurse, was standing on the roof
of the Port-au-Prince hospital under a spectacular display of stars,
pacing and praying with an infant dying in her arms.
baby was a premature twin girl, born at 27 weeks.
Her older brother had died just a few minutes before
in his father’s arms, and when she was born, her
mother and father had left the hospital without her, too
distraught to witness the death of another child.
was like a war zone, with patients pouring in around
the clock. It was April 2010 and Haiti had just
been devastated by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in January. Over
220,000 people had died, and over 300,000 were injured. Even
after the immediate impact of the quake, the unstable, slum-like
living conditions resulted in a constant stream of secondary injuries:
crushed skulls from walls that suddenly caved in, third-degree burns
from tents that caught on fire from candles, gunshot wounds
from insurgents roaming the countryside, infected and maggot-eaten wounds, tuberculosis,
malaria, diphtheria, typhoid, dengue fever, malnutrition…
And in addition to the
constant stream of the dying and the injured, there were
the births, fragile miracles flowering in the midst of wretchedness.
This little girl was one of them.
Knowing that she
was going to die, another doctor had wrapped her up
in a blanket and placed her on a table alongside
her dead brother. It seemed callous, but there was nothing
more to be done for them, and there were more
patients in urgent need of attention.
|A tent city in Port-au-Prince.|
Drawn to the baby,
Kelly picked her up and held her little body in
her arms. Another doctor saw her and understood. “We’ll cover
the floor. You go do what you need to do,”
he told her.
So she went to the roof, baby in
arms, where the tent city stretched out for miles all
around, an ocean of misery under a gloriously starry sky.
For the next four hours, she held that little girl,
singing to her and talking to her, praying for her,
walking with her. She could see the baby’s heart beating
under her tiny ribs, and she watched that heartbeat grow
slower until she drew her last breath and passed away.
Kelly had not cried at all for the first few
months spent in Haiti, not after losing patients by the
dozens, including infants, not even after saving lives and witnessing
the most humble expressions of gratitude. She had worked her
14-hour night shifts with energy and skill, intently focused on
her mission: saving lives.
But for some reason, this baby
was different. While bringing the twins to the morgue, she
broke down, feeling like a failure in the face of
her inability to save these two young lives.
that moment, she understood the essence of her mission in
“I had gone to Haiti to give medical help, but
it seemed I wasn’t able to help very many. And
then God opened my eyes. I was there for so
much more. By simply caring, I could accomplish what medicine
could not. I couldn’t save the twins, yet I was
able to ensure they did not die alone or unloved.
I would like to think they are smiling in heaven
knowing the brief time they spent on earth was spent
in the arms of someone who loved them,” she recalled.
“After that night, the ‘beaten down’ feeling lifted. God had
given me the grace to see how much more I
|The ER team "codes" (works to resuscitate) a patient undergoing cardiac arrest.|
was called to give. All I had to do was
give my best and allow God to work through me.
I realized that sometimes that means not taking someone’s cross
away, but accompanying them on their own journey to Calvary.”
times, the greatest thing we can do for a human
being is show them that someone cares. It was a
hard lesson to learn: I am not perfect, I can´t
save everyone, God is in charge... but it gave me
a lot of peace in Haiti and continues to give
me peace as a nurse today,” she said.
A sense of
A Regnum Christi member and former pre-candidate and coworker,
Kelly had long felt a burning desire to find her
calling in life and to spend herself at the service
of others. As a child, she had dreamed of building
orphanages in China, being a missionary and bringing God to
the most forgotten people on earth.
It took some time
to find the right place for that sense of calling.
Being a coworker was “fun,” but her heart yearned for
a more intense commitment to those most in need. So
she set out to be a nurse, working in the
Emergency Room in a hospital in Petoskey, Michigan.
January 2010, the news of the Haiti earthquake came pouring
in and she “just knew” that she had to go.
After a two-week trip with an orthopedic group from Grand
Rapids, Michigan, she applied to every organization she could find
that would take her for a long-term period of service.
She was accepted by the International Medical Corps and set
out for Port-au-Prince in April, working in the Emergency Room
for three months. After her three months were up, her
employer back in Michigan wanted her to come back, but
|Kelly Suter delivering a baby.|
she felt called to return to Haiti, so she gave
her two weeks’ notice and applied to return for another
three months. During her second long-term stay, she was sent
to the remote regions in the northwest of Haiti to
set up cholera clinics in remote, impoverished villages, some of
which were accessible only by boat.
Throughout those six and a
half months of service, she found her true calling in
life: not just to be a nurse, but to be
a missionary and an apostle who is also a nurse.
“Every heart knows deep down what it was created for,
and when it gets a taste of that true purpose
everything else pales in comparison. It was an awakening, as
if all of a sudden the clouds in my life
parted. After Haiti, I see everything so clearly. I know
what I want to do with my life— I want
to spend my life doing good,” she said.
Touching God in
In the midst of the chaos and constant state
of emergency during her first months in the Port-au-Prince ER,
there were also moments when God made his presence felt
in an almost tangible way.
On one such “normal” day,
the ER was filled with patients. On one side of
the room, a young man was dying from a hypoxic
brain injury caused by a seizure. On the other side,
they were saving a man who had been shot and
was bleeding to death. In another corner of the room,
two women were giving birth: one baby was premature and
died, and the other was healthy and survived.
standing in the middle of the room and looking around
me. I was suddenly struck by the knowledge that God
was present in that chaotic room. I could feel him
working- calling one home here, breathing life into another there.
For a fleeting moment I thought I might actually see
him physically standing there if I looked hard enough,” Kelly
“And then another realization sent chills down my spine. God
was present in that room, but we—I—was the ‘physical manifestation’
of his body. We are all told we are the
hands and feet of Christ, but it wasn’t until that
moment that I really understood it. I was helping that
baby take its first breath. I was holding that young
man’s hand as he left this world. My hands held
pressure on a near fatal wound until we found a
doctor to operate.”
“The power of God, and the power God
could wield with my small and fragile yes, stunned me.
God was beside me, using my hands to bring forth
both life and death, to bring about his will. I
felt weak but strong, meek but courageous… it is impossible
to put into words,” she said.
The courage to be
also present in the dignity of the Haitian people, giving
her deep lessons about what it really means to be
human, to be courageous, to be strong, to be a
|With Jumaile, a little girl in the pediatric refeeding tent. |
life-giver in the midst of a broken world. These are
lessons have remained engraved in her memory many months after
returning home to the United States.
“I had the opportunity to
live among some of the most impoverished people in the
world. They have nothing, and to much of the world
they are nothing. Every day brings horrible suffering. Yet, their
capacity to love, their capacity to give, their capacity to
vivaciously survive in what seems to be a worthless life
is mind-boggling! That is true courage: the courage to rise
above their suffering, to rise above the odds and hold
tight to the dignity they possess as children of God,”
“In the US, who you are is what you
have. In a poor country, who you are is who
you have the courage to be.”
“I try to remember their
faces and their fight in the hopes that it will
help me become who God created me to be, not
who the world thinks I should be,” she said.
Haiti is no longer just some other country marked by
tragedy. It is a part of her story, part of
“There comes a point in Haiti when the
sufferings of this country become your own suffering. The tourist
in you dies, the camera goes into storage and you
find yourself no longer watching as an outsider, rather becoming
part of the story. Their losses become your losses; their
triumphs become your triumphs,” she said.
“Somewhere along the road I
let my heart become attached. A part of my heart
will always remain in Haiti, with the people I have
watched live and the people I have watched die.”