Mission to Haiti Blog: Broken ribs don’t slow down Sister Judy

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Originally published 12:03 p.m., January 20, 2010
Updated 04:32 p.m., January 20, 2010

Editor’s Note: Daily News reporter Matt Clark is following Rev. Jean-Marie Fritz Ligonde, a Naples priest, as he searches for survivors of Collier County families.

St. Damien’s is located in the Tabarre neighborhood, about a half-hour northeast of Port-au-Prince by car and across the street from the U.S. Embassy.

U.S. Navy Seahawk helicopters fly low over the hospital frequently.

Dohner said there is a hospital set up at the embassy, but worries the choppers will make the cracks in the building worse.

“If Rick were here, he would tell them to fly higher,” Dohner said, referring to Rev. Leo Richard Frechette, who started the hospital with Dohner more than three years ago.

Frechette has been in the U.S., where he was attending a funeral, when the quake struck.

The Our Little Brothers and Sisters organization runs the hospital, which is set up for pediatric care.

Peter Tinneman, 42, a physician from Berlin who worked here for a year when the hospital opened and returned Saturday to help with the quake relief, said Frechette met with Mother Teresa, who initiated his mission here.

“She told Rick to come here,” Tinneman said. “He came here to take care of the dieing children.”

The hospital Frechette started his work at was in Petion-ville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince. It was destroyed in the quake.

Sans its collapsed perimeter walls and a few cracks, St. Damien’s is stable. A tower on top of the two story structure is cracked in several places.

“That tower is prolly going to go or we’re going to have to knock it down,” Dohner said.


Outside the hospital, patients recovering or waiting for surgery sit under makeshift tents. Tarps tied to poles provide shade and various sheets, foam pads and cots provide a place to rest.

We met with Gerard Loradin, 43, a Haitian who said he lived for about 15 years in Boston, Mass. He spoke English very well, as he taught it in the U.S. while he was there.

While waiting for surgery on his fractured femur, Loradin told us his earthquake experience. Scrapes on his feet were becoming infected and a half-dozen flies flew around them.

“I was in my room watching T.V.,” Loradin said. “I could not make it. The roof started falling down and the ceiling opened up.”

When asked what emotions he was feeling right now, he said the whole country is in sadness.

The experience he said gave him the most grief occurred after neighbors rescued him 20 minutes after the quake from the rubble of his home, which is near St. Damiens.

“They followed my voice,” Loradin said.

He was rushed to L’Hopital General in Port-au-Prince, where Daily News Journalist David Albers reported from earlier this week.

“Children were dieing all around me,” Loradin said. “I heard little bitty cries, but no one was there to help them.”

His great aunt was next to him, where he witnessed her passing.

Loradin said his cousin went to arrange for burial services, and he continued to talk to her, attempting to convince the doctors that she was still alive.

He didn’t want her to end up in a mass grave, which is where he said they were sending the bodies all around him.


The earthquake’s epicenter was 12 miles from Fondwa, the village where Dohner works at an orphanage and where she was when the quake struck.

“God didn’t want me yet,” she said.

She said it was the most terrifying experience of her life, and she has been through some incredible disasters in Haiti.

“I’ve been through all the terror,” Dohner said.

As for her rib, she doesn’t know if only one is broken. She just knows she feels pain when she rolls over at night.

“Didn’t have an X-Ray,” Dohner said, touching her rib. “But it’s the only one that hurts.”

In Fondwa after the quake, Dohner said everything was destroyed. People slept in the street and when aftershocks occurred screams could be heard for miles.

“That went on all night,” Dohner said.


Today we went to St. Damien’s Children’s Hospital to meet with Sister Judy Dohner, who is well known to many in Southwest Florida.

She is in charge of the operating room here. Everything is madness. She keeps saying, “I am just a traffic cop.”

Injuries (broken ribs and a concussion) from last week’s earthquake in Haiti aren’t slowing Dohner down. Her friends back in Collier County were worried but she’s doing fine.

Darting from the emergency room to post-op, then downstairs for an autoclave sterilizing device, it is easy to forget several key facts about her. She reminds us.

“Make sure you tell them I’m 64,” she says before sitting down briefly to speak with us.

“This is me with a broken rib,” she says as she lifts boxes, looking for the autoclave, then speaking in French.

“I swear a lot in French,” Dohner says, then speaking to two younger staff members standing over her. “Come on guys, I’m an old lady,” she tells them.

Upstairs, she makes sure the 18 beds in the emergency room are being utilized with efficiency. She expresses frustration with her Haitian counterparts frequently. They don’t have her multitasking abilities, she says the hospital administrator has told her.

“She hasn’t slowed down in the two days I’ve been here,” said Jennifer Ohle, 48, a registered nurse who came in from Chattanooga, Tenn.

“I was running to catch up with her and I’m pretty fast,” Ohle said.

The Emergency Room is a devastating shock. A young Haitian boy sits on one of the beds, and his foot looks like someone cut slices of his skin off, which then became infected. He screams as nurses apply the same antibacterial gel they use to clean the beds.

A young girl has her right arm in a cast. She breathes quickly. Her heart can be seen racing through her chest.

A woman resting on a foam pad outside the room is picked up and transported to a bed inside. Dohner’s keeping things moving, but this morning she was “paralyzed.”

When the aftershock struck, she said she couldn’t move. Everyone else left the hospital in 10 minutes.

“I was so traumatized,” Dohner said, twisting her wrists rapidly with her hands in front of her face. “I was shaking like this.”

When the quake struck, Dohner was in her home in Fondwa, where she works at an orphanage. She woke and ran outside, where a wall and stair railing fell, breaking at least one rib and giving her a concussion. She has a ring-sized scab on her forehead, but says she is fine.

She certainly seems to be enjoying herself. At points she smiled, and was constantly bringing humor into the situations, which are desperate. Like Ligonde, she has a gift.

Taking us into the post-operating rooms, we saw about a half-dozen patients with recently amputated limbs. Their bodies, heads and nearly every muscle were still as we walked into the room. Only the eyes move. Darting over to us, gazing. Then, looking back where they were before. No noise. No screams. No other vocalizations.

“The people of this country are going to walk through the rest of their lives with one leg or one arm,” Dohner said.

Dohner explains that the surgeons are operating twice. They cut the limb once and then go back to surgery three days later to remove any infected tissue. There is anesthesia for the surgeries, but only ibuprofen for everyone else. No serious painkillers.


PORT-AU-PRINCE — We awoke at 6 a.m. this morning to an aftershock.

It lasted for about five seconds, but long enough for NDN photographer David Albers to yell, “Matt, get up!”

I rushed to a doorway, Albers to an outside balcony.

Gaining my senses, I thought about all the times I had been told to do this as a child in school.

Then, I thought about the hundreds of pounds of concrete, rebar and roofing materials above my head.

Lastly, I thought about the body I had seen the day before.

Life is fragile.

The side-to-side motion stopped and we rushed outside, where everyone in the house had more intelligently positioned themselves.

“It was the first time I have ever experienced anything like that,” Ligonde said after Albers asked if it was similar to other aftershocks.

Me too. I have a lot of work to do today, and staring at the home, I wonder if it is OK to go back inside.


Rev. Jean-Marie Fritz Ligonde, 50, was brought face-to-face Tuesday with images he had been avoiding on television.

In a sport utility vehicle darting through the rubble, displaced survivors and frantic drivers downtown, Ligonde saw what was left of his country’s pride, his memories of growing up here, and the difficulties he would face in his mission to find the loved ones of Naples’ Haitian community.

“I felt like I could see no more. I have no courage to see, and my heart was just breaking apart. So, it was very hard, very, very hard and not easy to explain,” Ligonde said after leaving Port-au-Prince in sadness.

Passing a body crushed under the weight of a building’s walls, with pink nail polish still visible on an outstretched arm, Ligonde was brought to a level of emotions he rarely displays.

He turned his head, looked down and his heart spilled over through his vocal cords.

It wasn’t a wail or a scream, but more akin to an expression of disgust. An extended, medium-to-high pitched “ohhhh,” that continued until his heart was calm again.

“It’s very difficult to explain, but you’ve got to see it to feel it,” Ligonde said. “It is just sad. I feel so distressed seeing the body under the rubble.”

The day began with a trip to Petionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, where he intended to visit the home of four of his second cousins. It was splitting apart and not fit for living.

Walking from the home after taking a few pictures, Ligonde noticed a young man, one of his second cousins, digging through the rubble.

Lesly Louis, 26, was looking for a few boards so he could build a shelter.

Following him across the street, Ligonde walked through the grounds of a Sacred Heart Brothers Catholic religious community, a place where he used to jog and meditate.

The quarters for the friars living in the community had been destroyed, and Louis’ shelter was one of about 100 that had been set up on the site.

Ligonde worried this would become a permanent camp, just like the others that had been set up after revolutions or hurricanes.

“Every shanty town starts that way. Without any control for structure or anything,” Ligonde said. “Hopefully those things don’t happen here.”

Driving the car was Rev. Jean-Ronald Joseph. Now on sabbatical, Ligonde met Joseph in Bradenton. Knowing it would be dangerous downtown, Joseph hired a Haitian Police Officer to accompany Ligonde on the trip and dealt with the difficult task of finding gas.

As Director of the Haitian Ministry for the Diocese of Venice, Ligonde had taken it upon himself to visit the addresses of his ministry’s friends and family members.

Ligonde chose 289 Rue de Centre, an address that took him right into what had been reported as the most dangerous part of the city. The cousin of Naples resident Andre Bien Aime was living there, but Ligonde would not make it.

It was a trip into sadness.

Ligonde saw the Palais National and various other government buildings, among them the Department of Taxation, where he worked for four years. Nearly all of them were destroyed.

When the car stopped in traffic, people wandering the streets peered through the windows and patted their bellies.

“I gave my money away,” Ligonde said when one woman approached him. “I don’t have any money for her.”

Many of the bodies that had been lying in the street were removed, but the smell remained. Ligonde sprayed cologne under his nose to mask the smell.

The closer Ligonde got to the address, the worse the situation became. He saw the city’s Catholic Cathedral destroyed. He saw another bloated body lying on a median.

Every corner was another pile of impassible rubble. Joseph made the decision.

“There is no way we can go anywhere here,” Joseph said.

Stopping to get gas on the way back, Ligonde expressed his frustration with the situation, but could not bring himself to give up.

“It’s almost impossible to drive in Port-au-Prince, and heartbreaking. I feel really distressed and even depressed,” Ligonde said. “I’m glad I tried to do it, but I don’t know how I will feel tomorrow, because to do that, it is very difficult.”

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