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God’s Hands in Haiti
U. S. A. | NEWS | NEWS
Kelly Suter, an ER nurse and missionary, found her deepest calling in Haiti.

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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.

The 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.

The hospital 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
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A tent city in Port-au-Prince.
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.

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.

And in that moment, she understood the essence of her mission in Haiti.

“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
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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.”

“Many 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 calling

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.

Then, in 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
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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 the ER

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.

“I remember 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 said.

“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

God was 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
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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,” she said.

“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.

For Kelly, Haiti is no longer just some other country marked by tragedy. It is a part of her story, part of her heart.

“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.”


PUBLICATION DATE: 2011-12-02


 
 


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Sponsored by the congregation of the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement, Copyright 2011, Legion of Christ. All rights reserved.


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