How 5 Inspiring People Give Gifts of Time
Aiding Haitian Earthquake VictimsCarol Ritter
Hometown: Ruxson, Maryland
Married with three children
On January 12, 2010, Carol was sitting in a board meeting at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center when she received a text from her husband, Tom: “7.5 quake in Haiti really bad no contact CNN cant even get in.”
Carol was stunned. Since 2003 she had served on seven medical-aid missions to Haiti through the International Medical Alliance of Tennessee (IMA) and Friends of Haiti (FOH). For the rest of the meeting, Carol, who is the mother of three children, ages 23, 20, and 15, hunched over her phone, trying to reach friends in Haiti. “It was very scary,” she says. “Everything felt so uncertain.”
Forty-eight hours later, Carol learned IMA had received a plea for help from a Haitian doctor, and just days later she and Tom, a dentist, along with six other IMA team members, set up seven makeshift operating rooms in a clinic in Jimani, a town about 30 miles from Port-au-Prince.
Working 12-hour shifts, Carol performed about 900 surgeries over the next nine days and treated countless other victims, many with crushed limbs. “We went well beyond our comfort zones,” she says. “I’m a gynecologist, but I was surgically removing dead tissue from limbs to avoid the need for amputation.”
Carol also worked as a nurse, putting in IVs and offering comfort when she could. “Performing surgery is one thing, but taking care of the patients is almost harder,” she says. “You look into their eyes and see their fear.” Carol says she will never forget sitting with one woman as her husband took his last breath. “Her wails were just chilling,” she says. Another case devastated her as well―that of a pregnant woman who had lost her baby and was paralyzed from the waist down by the time she arrived at the clinic. No translator was on hand (most Haitians speak Creole) as the woman awaited transport to the U.S. Navy’s hospital ship for intensive medical care, but Carol pulled off a silver ring she was wearing and slid it onto the woman’s finger. “I wanted her to know I was thinking of her,” she says.
Fortunately, there were a few bright moments: Carol delivered two healthy babies (one grateful mother named her new daughter Carol), and she succeeded in obtaining a U.S. visa for her friend Nadia Amedee-Louisjean, 37, a Haitian translator for FOH in her last trimester of a high-risk pregnancy. (Shown here, Carol with Nadia and her baby boy, Gaetan; they are temporarily staying with the Ritters.)
When Carol returns to Haiti, she knows the devastation from the earthquake won't have disappeared. "The Haitians have lost everything," says Carol. "But I'll never stop doing what I can to help. I always remember 'There but for the grace of God go I.'"
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