In a way, attorney Edward Ready and his fiancée Dr. Alison Smith, a general surgery resident at Tulane Medical Center, experienced the Third World a year apart in different parts of the globe.
Ready was the grand knight of the students’ Knights of Columbus council at the College of Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and, on spring break in 2006, he drove a 15-passenger van (with 20 college students inside) nonstop on the 25-hour trek to post-Katrina New Orleans to do volunteer work gutting and rebuilding houses.
Smith was an undergraduate at Virginia Tech in 2007 when she and other members of the Newman Center community traveled to Haiti for the first time to do mission work.
Ready’s and Smith’s paths crossed in New Orleans a few years later when he was studying at the Loyola University School of Law, and she was a medical student at the Tulane University School of Medicine. They will be married next year.
Their love for each other and for serving the chronically poor has triggered a yearlong partnership between the Mater Dolorosa Council 15676 and Mater Dolorosa Parish to raise funds for a medical mission in Jacsonville, Haiti, where Smith has visited about 30 times on medical mission trips over the last nine years.
A snowball of love
“Ed fell in love with her, she dragged Ed to Haiti, Ed dragged me to Haiti and now we’re dragging the whole parish to Haiti,” said Father Herb Kiff, pastor of Mater Dolorosa, with a laugh as the KCs cooked sausages and poured beer for a “Beer and Brats” fund-raiser Nov. 11 dedicated to the Haiti mission 80 miles northeast of Port-au-Prince. “I’m not responsible for any of this. I just opened my house and backyard. I strung the lights – that’s all I did.”
Ready was just an 18-year-old college freshman when he joined a nearly defunct student KC council at the College of Holy Cross. Within two years, the council was the fastest-growing student KC group in the country.
“We recruited 50 guys in one year and we won the state youth award because we were spending our weekends doing a lot of great work at an orphanage run by the (Worcester) diocese,” Ready said. “It was very empowering.”
That feverish growth caught the eye of the Supreme Council in New Haven, Connecticut. When Katrina hit, the student group got funding for 20 members to drive 1,500 miles to New Orleans during spring break.
The funding didn’t come with room for a lot of extras. They decided to drive straight through to New Orleans because they didn’t have money for a hotel.
“It was 25 hours each way, and I was the only one who was old enough to rent the van, so I drove the entire way straight,” Ready said.
This was before Red Bull had really caught on. “It was Starbucks, with double shots of espresso,” Ready said. “I had about 20 of those.”
Seeing New Orleans flat on its back deeply impressed Ready. “That’s what got me to stay here,” he said.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in the classics from the College of Holy Cross, he decided to attend law school at Loyola “because you should go to law school where you want to practice, and I saw this as a much better place to practice.”
A match made in N.O.
Ready and Smith met a few years later at a Riverbend restaurant. Ready found out later that his future wife was in the midst of an M.D.-Ph.D. program at Tulane and had been voted “woman of the year” at Virginia Tech.
“Look, I’m academically accomplished, but she’s much more so,” Ready said, smiling. “She can destroy you with her (curriculum vitae). It’s four pages long – and she’s younger than me.”
Smith said she was intrigued by Haiti and its intractable poverty from the moment she first arrived in 2007. The priest who was in charge of the Virginia Tech Newman Center had developed a strong relationship with a Haitian-born student who had graduated from Virginia Tech.
Her first exclusively medical trip to Jacsonville was in 2009, a year before the massive earthquake that crushed what little infrastructure Haiti already had.
“I went two weeks after the earthquake and worked in a hospital there,” Smith said. “While I was in my Ph.D. program, I actually went every three months.”
Last year the Mater Dolorosa Council raised about $5,600 for the medical mission there, and this year’s dinner fund-raiser took in another $6,000. Plans for the money – which are carefully scrutinized by the nonprofit Santé Total – are very specific: a climate-controlled, secured, pharmaceutical storage room that will prevent rats from breaking in and eating the vitamins and refrigeration for medicines such as insulin.
Volunteers also want to build a house – at a cost of $250 – for a woman who had been living in a converted chicken coop.
“Jacsonville is the poorest of the poor in Haiti, which is the poorest of the poor in the Western Hemisphere,” Ready said. “There’s no running water, no power, you can’t drink the water. We’re trying to make the mission house, where all the doctors stay, at least in habitable condition. What I mean by ‘habitable’ is actually having floors.”
Ready said because sugar cane is always available, it became a major source of the Haitian diet, which has led to large numbers suffering from diabetes.
“How do you treat that? With insulin,” Ready said. “What do you do if you can’t refrigerate insulin? You don’t have it. So, most people have unchecked diabetes their entire lives. It’s absolutely scary.”
Joe Delery, a member of the Mater Dolorosa Council, said the knights love getting involved because they can see the concrete good they are doing.
“We know exactly where the money is going,” Delery said. “Some of our own parishioners spend thousands of their own dollars every year to support the cause.”
Ready said medical care is a dire need.
“The hospitals in Haiti are pay-as-you go, so if you don’t show up with cash, you don’t get treated,” Ready said.
On his first trip to Haiti, Ready carried an 8-year-old boy, who had Stage 4 cancer, in his arms to a hospital emergency room.
“This was the first time he’d ever seen a doctor,” Ready said. “Carrying him out in my arms to get him emergency medical care – you just can’t imagine this.”
The next medical mission trip will be Jan. 2-8, and Smith said there is room for additional medical professionals to participate. For information, visit www.santetotal.org. The group sponsors a medical mission three times a year.
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.