Dr. David and Laurie Vanderpool started doing medical work as volunteers 22 years ago, providing free health care to disaster survivors in need. Inspired by the Haiti earthquake and resulting events, Vanderpool sold his medical practice and home in Brentwood, Tennessee, and moved to Haiti where their nonprofit, LiveBeyond, is now located.
In his upcoming book, Live Beyond (January 7, 2020), Vanderpool describes what compelled him to give up his practice in affluent Brentwood, Tennessee, to move to Haiti and serve the poorest of the poor. The catastrophic earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010 was the motivation Vanderpool needed to completely change his life but he believes most people don't need an earthquake to rock their life's very foundations.
Dr. David Vanderpool is a surgeon and the CEO/founder of LiveBeyond, a faith-based, humanitarian organization providing medical, spiritual and logistical support in Haiti and other disaster-ridden countries throughout the world. Dr. Vanderpool started doing medical work as a volunteer 22 years ago, providing free health care in developing countries that suffered from either natural or man-made disasters.
In 2010, when a staggering earthquake hit Haiti, he used his trauma surgeon skills to provide care to people in need. In 2013, Dr. Vanderpool sold his medical practice and home in Brentwood, Tennessee, and moved to Haiti with his wife, Laurie, where LiveBeyond is now based. For more information, visit www.LiveBeyond.org.
Q: Dr. Vanderpool, thank you for doing this interview with us. Ten years ago, there was an earthquake in Haiti which changed your life. Tell us a little about this earthquake and your involvement in it.
On Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 4:53 pm, a catastrophic 7.0 earthquake struck the island nation of Haiti near Port au Prince. Some 200,000 people perished that day and perhaps a million were significantly injured. Our rapid response team arrived 2 days after the earthquake and began caring for the survivors. We set up our base of operations in an abandoned hospital on the Haitian border with the Dominican Republic and began the arduous task of providing surgical care to thousands of the injured. After the initial acute phase of the earthquake passed, we moved into Port au Prince and opened several clinics to provide ongoing medical care to those who were in need. We returned to Haiti with medical teams each month for a week at a time for three years, then in 2013 moved full time to our present location in Thomazeau, Haiti.
Q: Tell us a little about your life before you went to serve in Haiti.
Prior to our time in Haiti, we had served in Mozambique, Ghana and Honduras through our medical humanitarian organization, LiveBeyond. I had a surgical practice in Nashville, TN that supported LiveBeyond financially.
Q: What specific moment inspired him to sell his medical practice and home and move to Haiti?
Since my family had been serving in medical missions for some 20 years prior to our move to Haiti, we knew we always wanted to devote ourselves to caring for the poor full time. My wife and I decided years ago that when our youngest child went to college, we would sell our house and possessions and move overseas.
Q: What were some of the challenges about making such a move?
The challenges were numerous. We moved from an upscale neighborhood in Brentwood, TN to an area of Haiti without electricity, running water or sewerage control. Initially, we slept on army cots under the stars during hurricane season with no security. Our language skills were few and our understanding of the local culture was scant. Over time, however, the Lord prevailed and we presently have built a base of 63 acres with solar powered electricity, clean running water and our own sewage treatment system. We have 12 foot walls, razor wire and armed security which encompasses our surgical hospital, school, church and guest house.
Q: In what ways are you helping the people in Haiti now?
We believe that caring for peoples' physical needs is a great initial step towards caring for their spiritual needs. To that end, we have provided the people in our area with 340,000,000 gallons per year of drinking water so that they can understand the Living Water. We presently feed 3200 hungry children, pregnant ladies and at-risk adults per day so that they can grasp the Bread of Life and we care for 12,000 patients each year in our surgical hospital so that they understand the Great Physician. We believe that Jesus came to give life and give life abundantly so we provide one hundred adults with full time employment and educate 100 children. We see about one hundred people each year give their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ at our church.
Q: Share with us a story or two of how the people's lives have been changed as a result of your ministry.
We first saw her as she hobbled down the dusty mountain path. She was gangly and rail thin and she walked the walk of chronic pain. Her road weary red turban was wrapped lazily around her thinning hair and bore witness to her profession. She was a priestess, a voodoo priestess. As she walked into our remote medical clinic, the dull roar of our typically chaotic clinics was broken by horrified gasps. The seasoned volunteer medical personnel, though hardened by the assaults of urban Trauma Departments, had never witnessed this spectacle.
Voodoo, a west African religion, was captured along with the unwitting west Africans in the net of slavery cast by the French in the 1700s and ensconced in Haiti. This satanic practice infiltrated the island sufficiently to ensnare 70% of the population and is the lens through which Haitians see the world. The worship of the darkness involves incantations, animal sacrifices, blood and fire. The black pig is the sacrificial animal of choice but none is exempt as the only requirement is blood. The blood is cast about by frenzied adherents dancing to prehistoric drums and only true believers endure paths of searing fires. Haitian voodoo is the antithesis of Christianity. The blessings of the one are replaced by curses in the other. Hope is replaced by vacuum. Nourishment by starvation and solace by pain and now the embodiment of voodoo had just walked into our clinic.
Maize was a true believer. She had walked through the fires of voodoo worship for twenty years and her legs bore the deep scars of repeated searings.
The relentless Haitian sun was finally finishing its searing course across the desolate landscape as we put the finishing touches on our latest water purification system. The desiccated saltpan extended the width of the narrowly separated mountains and to the depth of the inhabitants' water table. We were providing clean water to 200,000 people living in this fractured country but this area proved difficult. The blanched salinity covered everything including the drinking water and we struggled to render it potable. The cracked huts that bore the pasty white mud covered parched sticks reflected the diurnal baking of their occupants. The people of this area had united with their salty surroundings and were contesting us as well but their baked stares veiled their secret.
A furtive figure danced away in our periphery. Unsure if what we had just seen was real or a result of our boiling, dehydrated brains, we peered behind the crumbling, briny bleached hut and saw her. Covered in white dirt, her hair matted with salt and dung, her piercing eyes atop an angulated 3-foot frame squinted at us warily. More unsettling than her mien was the feral grunting emanating from her snarled lips. We couldn't tell if these gutturals represented a warning not to come too close or were a primeval cry for help. Hoping for the latter but prepared for the former, we uneasily approached.
Voodoo dictates the banishment of any who are defective. Mental, physical and emotional wrecks are not allowed to join the ranks of the "acceptable". Without functioning water, sewer or welfare systems, these unfortunates rust beside hog wallows seeking shelter in byres littered with the excrement of their previous owners. The jeers of their cruel neighbors compound their ignominy but their real deprivation is nutritional. They slowly starve as the hogs best their attempts at ingesting refuse, wasting away until they themselves become nourishment for these disgusting carnivores.
Our attempts to feed Annette were met with distrust from her and ridicule from the growing crowd. She had lived so long without warm human contact, that she feared that we would join her neighbors in her continuous torment. Eventually her hunger overcame her fear and she began to feverishly grab the Cheetos from Laurie's hand and guzzle our PowerAide filled Nalgene bottles. To shelter her from the sticks and mud clods launched from her antagonists, our small group huddled around her. It was then we got a full picture of her misery.
At three feet tall her deformity was wrenched forward and side-to-side by the cruel combined grip of scoliosis and lordosis. Untold prenatal forces so twisted her pliable spine that without corrective surgery, she was destined to live in constant warped pain. Though the closest possibility of spine surgery lie 800 miles to the northwest, the damage now had fused her into a hopeless surgical misadventure. Though clearly uncommunicative, her mind seemed aware as she purposefully shuttled from one horrified American to another gorging on whatever their hands held. Had a microscopic clump of blood cells dislodged from their rightful resting place and imploded her inferior frontal gyrus leaving her with the incomprehensible speech of Broca's aphasia? Or had she been so severely isolated that her speech patterns were shaped by the grunts and groans produced by the missiles and missives continually hurled at her? Either way, her grunts and snorts needed a voice.
As our battered little team drove away in speechless silence, we watched in mounting anger as Annette was chased around the desolation of the village, her food stolen and her precious water fed to the goats. As the darkness fell on that unholy village, we resolved to return the next day and the next and the next until Annette's voice was clarion and her body robust.
Today, six months of daily nutritious food and warm soapy baths have rejuvenated her. Previously wary of our help, she now relishes her prepared meals though she still wriggles and shrieks at the cleansing baths. Her neighbors still delight in the maleficent entertainment provided at the expense of the strangely graceful Americans focusing so much attention on this allegedly unworthy broken woman.Today, as we leave her in the chalky dirt, we fervently pray that like the tainted woman of old, that soon Annette will grasp the Savior's tallit and His flowing healing will again transform.
Q: You have a new book "Live Beyond" coming out that chronicles your faith journey. How can this book help our readers in their own faith journeys?
Often, people ask how our family made the transition from a life of a successful surgeon, living in comfortable suburbia to living among the poorest people in the world providing physical and spiritual support to the least of these. Hopefully, this book provides a road map for that journey that many of us are called to.
Q: Over these last ten years, how has your faith grown?
Faith, like muscles, grows with ever increasing testing. During the ten years that we've been in Haiti, we've been presented with some pretty difficult tests. My wife, Laurie, was abducted and pistol-whipped, our base manager, Jean, was murdered in front of his wife and child as he came to work and two of our team leaders were kidnapped, tortured and held for ransom for four days. We've been attacked and robbed countless times, threatened with death and poisoned by voodoo priests. All of this has served to increase our dependence on God and clarify His gift of Grace in the next life. Our faith has grown amazingly during these last ten years and certainly has a lot of growing to do in the future.