Helping the Haitians: Doctor, family taking a year to help others

By Randy Robbins, Pilot staff writer June 11, 2013 09:35 pm

Doctor Luther Ward, his son Broderick and the rest of the family will be heading to Haiti this summer. The Pilot/Randy Robbins
Doctor Luther Ward, his son Broderick and the rest of the family will be heading to Haiti this summer. The Pilot/Randy Robbins
Dr. Luther Ward’s 2-year-old son, Broderick, squealed in delight. One tiny arm hugged his father’s neck in a tight embrace, while the other pointed to the aluminum foil hat that his dad had good naturedly placed upon his head. 

The hat, a gift from fellow physician Dr. Carlin Utterback, was designed to “ward off harmful ultraviolet rays” for Luther’s shaved head.

The hat may come in handy as the Gold Beach-based general surgeon and his family head to the tropical nation of Haiti this summer as part of a one-year fellowship sponsored by the prestigious Harvard Medical School.

“Harvard is world renowned as quite possibly one of the finest medical institutions in the world. It’s an honor to work along side of them for the people of Haiti,” Ward said during a recent farewell gathering of friends, family and staff of Curry Health Network (CHN).

In Haiti, Ward will help start a residency program at the “Hospital Haiti,” a facility with 300 beds, six operating rooms, a full-time emergency room. The facility was built from the wreckage caused by the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that leveled much of the impoverished island nation.

Ward said he will focus much of his efforts on coordinating incoming physicians and helping to transfer knowledge of medical procedures to Haitian physicians. He hopes the Haiti medical teaching facility will eventually become the country’s version of Oregon’s Health and Science University (OHSU).

“I am looking forward to increasing my knowledge by working with Harvard’s physicians to become better at what I do,” Ward said.

The equipment he will have at his disposal through Harvard Medical School is state-of-the-art.

“I have cameras mounted on my tools. If I get into a situation during an operation that needs their expertise it is instantly available,” he said.

Ward  was hired by Curry Health Network three years ago. Prior to that, patients either had to go north to Coos Bay or south to Crescent City to receive care.

Ward, an Arizona native, arrived in Curry County with top graduate honors. He is highly respected and regarded as “one of the best at what he does” according to those who know and work with him.

“He’s truly one of the finest men I’ve ever known,” said CHN spokeswoman Moira Fossum said. “He’s courageous, honest, funny, caring and compassionate. I think he should be cloned!”

 Fossum said the Haiti endeavor is perfect match for someone such as Ward.

“He’s worked in the Peace Corp, done medicine in rural Tennessee and is a tri-athlete; his wife is, too,” she explained. “He is a risk-taker. He’s about living life to the fullest. His whole family is.”

“Just think about what he will bring back with him to help us here in Curry County,” she said.

Ward spent five years working at Louisiana’s Tulane University and another five years specializing in general surgery at East Tennessee State University.

“I always knew I wanted to serve rural communities,” Ward said.

He and his wife, Lisa, have dedicated their lives to help those less fortunate since they first met, he said. Both were chemistry teachers and Peace Corp. volunteers at the time — he in Ghana, West Africa, and she in the Solomon Islands.

Lisa went on to earn a PhD. in public health and sanitation from Tulanne as well. They married in 2005 and in addition to their son, Broderick, the couple have 7-year-old twin daughters, Dakota and Cassidy, and 5-year-old daughter Sawyer.

Ward’s “aw shucks” demeanor gives a hint of his humble attitude, which in turn, has earned his co-workers admiration.

What is it like to work with Ward?

“Fantastic! He’s a very good teacher,” said Tammy Spaulding, an imaging technician at Curry General Hospital. “He’s a never-a-dumb-question kind of guy. Appeals to both the staff and his patients. So smart and compassionate.”

Gold Beach resident Harry Hoogesteger felt similarly.

“Luther brought with him the latest techniques and cutting edge technology to this hospital. He is a true professional in every sense of the word,” he said.

How will his family adapt to life in Haiti?

“The kids will be in a Creole-English-French school and are looking forward to the adventure,” said Ward, who is learning Creole — a mixture of West African dialect and French.

“I picked up some of it while in the Peace Corps in Ghana,” he said.

While Ward is gone, Dr. Glenn Levine will conduct general surgeries for CHN, and Ward will work beside Levine upon his return.

“Glen Levine is a very talented general surgeon and he will start here in two weeks,” Ward said. “He is very good and was trained by a classmate who trained me. He’s from the University of Alabama. When I return we’ll have two surgeons!”