February 19, 2010

Earthquake survivor vows to continue raising funds for Haitian people

Registered nurse Sue Alexander prepares to help a Haitian boy during one of her medical mission trips to St. Jean Marie Parish in Belle Riviere with St. Thomas Aquinas Parish Haiti Committee volunteers. Alexander miraculously survived the Jan. 12 earthquake in Port-au-Prince. (Submitted photo)

Registered nurse Sue Alexander prepares to help a Haitian boy during one of her medical mission trips to St. Jean Marie Parish in Belle Riviere with St. Thomas Aquinas Parish Haiti Committee volunteers. Alexander miraculously survived the Jan. 12 earthquake in Port-au-Prince. (Submitted photo)

By Mary Ann Wyand

“What is it that God is asking you to do?”

After posing that question during his homily on Jan. 18, Father Stephen Schwab said that “it” must include helping the impoverished people of Haiti recover from the devastating earthquake on Jan. 12 that destroyed Port-au-Prince.

The 7.0 magnitude quake flattened buildings in seconds, killed an estimated 200,000 people, injured tens of thousands of survivors, and left more than 1 million Port-au-Prince residents hungry and homeless.

The pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis noted that the Haitian people still living in the capital city desperately need food, water, medicine and medical care.

Red Cross volunteer nurse and former St. Thomas Aquinas parishioner Sue Alexander, who miraculously survived the earthquake, listened from her seat in a back pew as Father Schwab discussed the tragic humanitarian crisis and our calling as Christians to help the poor.

Alexander, a retired registered nurse who now lives in the Lafayette Diocese, traveled to Haiti for a medical mission trip on Jan. 12 and arrived in Port-au-Prince several hours before the massive earthquake leveled the city.

She was standing on a second-floor porch talking with two Haitian girls who lived at the house when the ground began to shake violently and all the buildings started to break apart.

Translator Martin Glesil, a member of her host family, quickly helped Alexander and his relatives down the steps of the shaking house as the powerful quake rocked the ground beneath their feet.

“I saw things starting to fall and I heard Martin call my name,” Alexander said. “It was hard to stand. I couldn’t walk. I grabbed my backpack, and he pulled me down the steps and out of the house. It was very hard to get out.

“When the house was falling down, I really thought I was going to die,” she said. “I began saying the Jesus prayer I use as a mantra—‘Oh, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on us’—over and over again as soon as I felt the ground rumbling. But the quake passed very quickly. It was over within a minute or two and we got outside safely.”

In the street, Alexander said she continued to pray as she provided first aid and wound care to injured Haitians.

Relying on her Red Cross disaster training, Alexander used medical supplies, antibiotics and pain medication she had brought in a suitcase, which Glesil managed to recover from the ruins of his home.

But many of the people trapped in the concrete rubble were so badly hurt that she could not help them.

“A young girl, probably about 10, died in my arms,” Alexander said. “All I could do was pray for her. She must have had a lot of internal injuries. Her father was frantic. He picked her up off the ground and started running, but there was no place to run.”

Alexander lived in the streets and cared for survivors for four days until all of her medical supplies were gone then decided it was time to return home.

“I had done what I could in the neighborhood as far as wound care,” she said. “I didn’t want to drink water or eat food that other people needed so I left.”

On Jan. 15, Glesil helped her get to the American Embassy in Port-au-Prince, where U.S. officials arranged for her evacuation on a military cargo plane to Homestead Air Force Base in Florida.

A military bus transported her from the base to Miami International Airport, where she booked a flight to Indianapolis.

Now a member of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Alexander said she has volunteered on “two or three medical mission trips a year to Haiti since 1994 and lived there for two years.”

She wanted to return to Haiti on another medical mission trip, but recently fell and broke her arm.

As she recuperates, Alexander has had time to reflect on her terrifying near-death experience as well as the suffering of so many injured, scared and grief-stricken people.

“It’s just heartbreaking,” she said of the suffering in Haiti, which is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

Alexander said she is grateful that a 10-member volunteer medical team organized by St. Thomas Aquinas parishioner Joseph Zelenka of Indianapolis traveled to Haiti on Feb. 13 for a six-day medical mission to help the people in Port-au-Prince.

She has participated in several St. Thomas Aquinas Haiti Committee mission trips.

Alexander hopes that people in the U.S. will care enough to pray for the people of Haiti and donate money to Catholic Relief Services.

“I’m not one to look back,” Alexander said. “I have to look forward. That’s just my nature. I’m a planner. I knew the best thing for me to do was get out of the country, go home, and work to do what I can from here by raising funds and encouraging people to give to responsible organizations that can help the Haitian people.”

Alexander left most of her cash with Glesil, and plans to send more money to him soon to help her host family rebuild.

“Martin, who saved my life or certainly kept me alive, is in despair,” Alexander said. “They have nothing. They’re just on the street. They’re waiting for help. I promised him before I left that if I did nothing else for the rest of my life I will work to get money in his hands to build a new house.” †

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