Recovering Haitian physician makes fresh start in Adairsville
by Marie Nesmith
Oct 17, 2010 | 4188 views | 0 0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gary Docteur relaxes on his front porch in downtown Adairsville. After surviving a gunshot wound in June, the Haitian physician received treatment in Atlanta and is being embraced by the Adairsville community. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
view slideshow (3 images)
For Gary Docteur, a tragic set of circumstances is now yielding a new set of challenges and opportunities.

After being shot in the back in northern Haiti June 6, the physician's life has been turned upside down. During his road to recovery, the 40-year-old Haitian has gone from providing medical care to being a patient and from being his family's financial provider to relying on the kindness of others. Now residing in Adairsville and confined to a wheelchair, Docteur is slowly beginning to rebuild his life, never losing faith that one day he will work and walk again.

"We are not going to go back to Haiti ... We decided to stay in the U.S. and fix legal process, obtain work visa," said Docteur, who is renting a house in downtown Adairsville with his wife, Kettie, and their children, 9-year-old Ruth Love and 9-month-old Keila. "I think I would like to stay here and continue my occupation to retake my life. So my wife can work and I can take care of my family.

"Staying here -- it's hard for me to sit, stay home because I was so busy in my country," he said, adding it was not uncommon for him to work more than 12-hour days at his clinic and a nearby hospital in Cap-Haitien. "I would like to go out [more]. I think Adairsville, [the] people are very kind. We find everybody [wants] to welcome us, to help us, to spend their time [with] us. It's great. It's really unbelievable."

In June, Docteur's journey began when he was approached by three armed men. After Docteur purchased a telephone card at a store, the assailants demanded money from him when he returned to his car.

"I only heard the noise of the gun -- 'Pow.' And I lie down in the street," said Docteur, a keyboardist, who also led a music ministry at his church. "Cars had to go another way to move around me. Everybody ran from me and cars had to make a circle to miss me. So when I fall down, immediately I don't feel my body. I remember I say, 'God, if it's the day for me to die, forgive my sin and take care of my family.' After that some people came to me and brought me to the hospital in my car. They used my car to bring me to the hospital."

After he was admitted to three hospitals, two of which were in the Dominican Republic, Docteur's family learned that he would die within 48 hours if he was not transported to the United States for treatment. Still fighting infection, he was moved to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta on June 10, courtesy of an American friend, Henry Couser. Having worked closely with Docteur on mission trips to Haiti since 2003, Couser and his fellow members at Noonday Baptist Church in Marietta rallied after learning of Docteur's failing condition. Along with talking to the medical staff at Grady, Couser arranged to transport Docteur to Atlanta via an air ambulance service, placing the nearly $16,000 bill on his credit card.

While at Grady, tests confirmed that the bullet -- wedged between his pancreas and stomach -- had traveled through his spinal cord, resulting in him being paralyzed from the waist down.

Like Couser, Susan Summers of Adairsville also was inspired to help Docteur and his family. After he completed his in-patient physical therapy at the Shepherd Center, Summers -- who provides accounting services for Noonday Baptist Church -- suggested Docteur visit Adairsville, knowing the area could bear potential residential and career opportunities. Returning to Haiti was not an option for Docteur due to the country's limited medical resources and lack of handicap access.

"I think a lot of people are connecting [with] him because he went to the store," Summers said. "He went to the store and he came out of the store and he got robbed. How many times do we hear on the news the same thing? He wasn't doing anything wrong. He wasn't doing anything bad. He'd worked 19 hours that day taking care of people and he stopped at the store to get a phone card so he could pick up his computer and got shot.

"It could have been just a couple of seconds [and] his life was changed. ... When I found out that Gary was going to have to find a place in the United States, I said, 'Well, Adairsville's such a wonderful town, let's move him up here.' And there's so much tragedy and violence in Haiti that I thought this is the exact opposite of that. So with what he's been through let's bring him up here and give him a little piece of heaven. So I told a friend and she told a friend and she told a friend and the day they moved in the house was full of furniture. It was full of decorations. It was full of food," she said, adding the community also donated supplies and built a wheelchair ramp onto his front porch. "I was so proud to be a part of Adairsville. I think this is the neatest little town ever."

While each day is still a learning process, the Docteurs are slowly becoming acclimated to their new home, with Ruth Love attending Adairsville Elementary School and the family visiting area churches.

"More than anything, Gary Docteur wants to continue to help people," wrote Couser in a letter about Docteur's journey. "He wants to be able to serve his fellow man and holds no ill feelings towards the people who shot him. Long-term, Dr. Gary will be able to work and provide for his family. It is the interim in which help is needed."

To assist the family, area residents can contribute to an account established at United Community Bank, with checks made payable to Kettie Docteur. Donations also can be placed through Noonday Baptist Church at www.noondaychurch.org or by mail, 4121 Canton Road, Marietta, GA 30066.

"The day he moved in he seemed very sad," Summers said. "I [recently] sat on his front porch and talked with him. They've got one of those great Southern wraparound front porches [and] he loves to sit outside in his wheelchair. [So] I was sitting on the porch with him and I said, 'Gary, How're you doing? Your eyes still look a little sad.' He said, 'No, I'm doing so much better. I know that no matter what, God has a plan.' He said, 'I am here for a reason and everything is going to be fine.'"