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LDS relief: Haiti binds a broken heart

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 4 2015 6:11 p.m. MDT

Nurse Liz Howell carries quake victim 4-year-old Oresto Oclor to a hospital for surgery on the boy's arm in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Friday.   (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Nurse Liz Howell carries quake victim 4-year-old Oresto Oclor to a hospital for surgery on the boy's arm in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Friday. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Stript, wounded, beaten nigh to death,

I found him by the highway side,

I roused his pulse, brought back his breath,

Revived his spirit, and supplied

Wine, oil, refreshment, he was healed.

I had myself a wound concealed,

But from that hour forgot the smart,

And peace bound up my broken heart.

— “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief”

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Liz Howell bustles about the injured and ailing Haitians, cleaning wounds, applying bandages and flashing her trademark grin as she provides care to patients of all ages suffering in the aftermath of the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake.

She provides the same, perky spark among her peers as the only female among the 18-member, LDS Church-sponsored team of doctors and nurses volunteering in Haiti.

With mom Mirlene Nazaire holding them, Liz Howell checks the hearts of twins Kervings and Kervingoon Nazaire on Friday at a clinic set up by the LDS Church in Port-au-Prince. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) With mom Mirlene Nazaire holding them, Liz Howell checks the hearts of twins Kervings and Kervingoon Nazaire on Friday at a clinic set up by the LDS Church in Port-au-Prince. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Few of the men in her medical team, and certainly none of the Haitians she has seen, know how aptly Howell fits the fifth stanza of James Montgomery's 1826 poem, "The Stranger and His Friend." The poem later became the lyrics to the Christian hymn "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief," a favorite of early leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

You see, Howell herself has a wound concealed.

Eight-plus years ago in Arlington, Va., Brady and Liz Howell were enjoying their four-year marriage and the prospects of their respective careers — Brady working at the Pentagon as a presidential management intern in Naval intelligence and Liz beginning to position herself in the medical field with prestigious national and international connections.

That all ended on Sept. 11, 2001.

Brady Howell was one of the 188 killed in the 9/11 attack at the Pentagon.

Liz called him "my hero."

Brady and Liz Howell became household names during local and national coverage of the terrorist attacks and the impacts on the victims' surviving families.

Three and a half months later, Liz Howell found herself unexpectedly back in the national spotlight when she was invited to represent the families of 9/11 victims by carrying the Olympic torch in the run leading up to the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games.

And not just any stretch of the run but the leg in Washington, D.C., going up the South Lawn of the White House. And handing the torch to then-President George W. Bush, who greeted Howell with a tender embrace and a gentle kiss on the cheek.

"Liz Howell lost her husband, Brady, in the attack on the Pentagon. Brady was fulfilling a lifelong dream by serving his country at the Pentagon. Liz left her native Utah to help Brady live that dream," Bush said in a brief ceremony at the time. "Liz, our nation prays with you during this holiday season. We pray for peace and comfort for you and your family."

Howell showed the president a locket she was wearing, opening it to reveal inside a photo of her late husband. The South Lawn exchange ended with another hug and kiss to the cheek.

Howell found life difficult without her husband. She still does, as evidenced by her tears and emotion-choked voice, talking about him while packing her bags Friday night in preparation to leave Haiti after a week's work of humanitarian efforts.

"There's a scripture that says the worth of a soul is great in the eyes of God," she said. "I really grew to understand what that meant with the loss of my husband, just how great a loss it is."

The magnitude and scope of a death not only affects a spouse and family but results in what Howell called a domino effect of grief and the disappointment of lost potential.

"I realized there are other people in the world who are suffering, and while I by no means am an expert on grief or trial, I'm acquainted with grief," she said.

"I just realized at that point that I wanted to serve others with all my heart, with everything that I had, and I realized that I had been blessed so much after the loss of my husband and comforted so much."

Howell had come to the realization that the worth of a soul is great, as is the value of comforting and caring for that soul. Humanitarian service then became a natural for combining compassion and medical care.

Medical training and education took alterations; Howell refuses to call them "changes" but rather "enhancements." She looked for opportunities to serve others.

"That's why I decided at 30 that I would go on a mission — at age 30!" exclaimed Howell in mock disbelief at herself. She served her LDS Church mission in Portugal several years ago.

"It was a difficult transition period," she admitted. "People can take away your loved ones, they can take away your greatest treasures, but they cannot take away or change the way you respond to a situation.

"And that's what I made. I took the responsibility to channel my grief in a positive direction."

In addition to being a nurse, Howell is one of eight full-time employees in the LDS Church's Humanitarian Services, working in the neonatal resuscitation training program.

She helps gather and coordinate teams of doctors and specialists who travel across the country and throughout the world to train individuals who in turn train others on techniques to improve newborn mortality rates.

Sometimes simply using an inexpensive bulb-type suction instrument or applying manual massage techniques may help clear a new baby's airways or prompt him to begin breathing on his own.

Lesser-educated or lesser-understanding medical personnel sometimes think nothing can be done for a baby not breathing, ignoring it to focus on postpartum treatment of the mother at the expense of the newborn's life.

Howell said she loves the humanitarian work and the opportunity to teach and interact with others.

"When you're of service, you lose yourself," Howell said. "All of a sudden, your trials don't seem nearly as big because everybody else is going through something. It puts it in perspective, and it's very, very healing."

Howell, who says she has "a lot of love that I can give," has spent the past week giving that love one injured or ailing patient at a time at makeshift clinics housed in LDS Church meetinghouses in Port-au-Prince.

And she's allowed the peace of humanitarian service to bind up her broken heart.

e-mail: taylor@desnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company