DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – It took months for Dallas ophthalmologist Gary Fish to get through the loss of his coworker and friend Jean Arnwine, who died while volunteering in Haiti after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake ripped through the country.
“I healed faster physically than I did mentally,” Fish said. “That’s for sure.”
Fish, Arnwine and other members of the Highland Park United Methodist Church were providing free eye care, glasses and cataract surgery to Haitians when the earthquake struck. Fish said one of the walls of the three story building next door fell on top of their clinic.
Fish was pinned by the rubble.
“It was just a piece on top of my head. It just, taco-ed me like that,” he said. “My trouble was I couldn’t breathe because I was squished.”
It took Fish five minutes to wiggle out of the rubble. It took hours, however, for the rest of his team to be rescued. A Florida miner happened to be walking by their clinic. He provided the help they needed, Fish said.
“He went out and got some jacks he had and picked the roof up,” Fish said.
Arnwine had a crushed pelvis. And despite her agonizing injuries, Fish said she hardly complained.
“Jean was really stoic,” he said.
After they were rescued, Fish said they were driven to the house they were staying in at the edge of their town called Petit Guave, some 30 miles west of Port Au Prince. That was two days after the earthquake hit.
But just as the group was waiting for a plane from Miami to take Arnwine back to the U.S. for critical treatment, there was a major snag: Haitian authorities wouldn’t let the plane land.
“If that plane could have landed, I think she would have survived,” Fish said.
Because of her injuries, Arnwine needed to be transported on a plane that could accommodate a stretcher. It would be 12 painful hours before she could get on the next flight.
“It’s your typical bureaucracy,” Fish said. “They wouldn’t let people up on planes that couldn’t sit up and wear their seatbelt.”
When they finally boarded a plane, their destination was to the island of Martinique. But just as the plane took off, Fish said “she quit breathing.”
Paramedics were able to get Arnwine breathing again, but she remained unconscious. The plane diverted to the island of Guadalupe where paramedics airlifted her to the closest hospital.
Despite the doctors’ best efforts to save her, Arnwine died.
“I never thought she was going to die,” Fish said. “It was pretty upsetting.”
Fish escorted his friend’s body back to Dallas. Despite the terrible loss, he and his colleagues want to go back to Haiti as soon as they can to continue their mission.
“Half the ladies in this office have come to me and have asked to go,” Fish said.
He said they have plans to rebuild their clinic. New equipment is ready to go. Fish said they’re doing this in part for Arnwine, who was already planning her return to Haiti when her life was cut short.
The Highland Park United Methodist Church is collecting donations of corrective glasses for those in need in Haiti. The glasses maybe sent to the following address:
Highland Park United Methodist Church
Attn: Rachel Faubion
3300 Mockingbird Ln.
Dallas TX 75205