By Sister Marie Vittetoe, CHM
Sunday’s Epistles and Gospel (Feb. 7) reiterated how important it for us to answer the call. Calls come in many different forms. In 1999 my call to return to Haiti came by phone from Dr. Ted Dubuque asking for help with improving the laboratory. He was a stranger to me then, but later I learned that in 1986 he was the first surgeon to come to Hopital Sacre Coeur (HSC) in Milot, Haiti.
On Jan. 17 when I heard the urgent call for orthopedic surgeons to treat Jan. 12 earthquake victims at HSC, I immediately thought of my cousin, Dr. David Vittetoe, as a possible resource. He is in a busy Des Moines orthopedic practice group. So to get his cell phone number, I called his folks in Ottumwa, Ray and Margaret Vittetoe, both retired X-ray technologists and members of St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa. That’s where David and his four brothers grew up and received their basic education.
Carol Fipp, the HSC team organizer in Florida, told him to be in Fort Lauderdale by Jan. 19 to fly to Cap Haitien. It sounded like a wild request as it meant conferring/negotiating with colleagues, rearranging many surgical schedules, leaving his young family, getting plane and hotel reservations, gathering and packing necessary surgical supplies.
But David more than met the challenge of that call. Not only did he leave his busy practice, but he recruited two other orthopedic surgeons and a surgical technician to answer the call with him. They put in long days, performing about 30 orthopedic surgeries per day.
Some of these were amputations, but most of the limbs were salvageable. These patients were brought from Port-au-Prince to Milot by Coast Guard helicopters or by Army helicopters from the ship HOPE, sponsored by Project HOPE. It was like a MASH operation — patients rushed into triage areas, then assigned to surgical suites for their procedures.
Sometimes duties also included meeting the helicopters and carrying the patients to the waiting ambulance or taking post-op patients to the ICU.
After long days and difficult cases, due to the large number of volunteers, they ate their meals late and in a rush. By bedtime all the beds were taken, so they slept short nights on the floor!
After all that hardship, David’s comment is that “My life is changed forever and this trip has been a great inspiration to many others who now wish to volunteer. Thanks so much for getting me connected to the relief effort in Milot. What an experience! I’m so proud of the Des Moines contingency that has volunteered so far. We have sent three orthopods, one anesthesiologist and one ortho tech, not to mention 19 boxes of supplies/equipment!”
David heard the call, and continues to call others to also give freely of their talents to those many strangers, people who might never have lived but for volunteers’ answer to the CALL — truly exemplifying the body of Christ through knowledge, skilled hands and willingness to answer promptly!