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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Physician finds healing: Clay County doctor contemplates suicide

Wednesday, May 7, 2003

Dr. Kennard Sproul examining a Haitian child at the Centre Sante Lumiere Clinic in Haiti last March. He's back home in Brazil trying to raise the funding necessary to return to his medical missionary work. Submitted photo

Part 1 of 4

Dr. Kennard Sproul remembers 1998, when he was at his lowest. He was sitting in a woods northwest of town just a couple miles from his mother's home. Looking at the gun in his hands that he'd bought the week before, he thought he could no longer handle the travails of life. He held the gun up in front of his face and said aloud, "God, give me the strength to pull this trigger or give me a reason to live."

He took his cell phone from his pocket to call the sheriff's office to let them know where they could find his body. Dr. Sproul didn't want any of his family accidentally stumbling upon it. Then the lady he'd been dating entered his mind. He wanted to hear her voice one more time so decided to phone her before calling the sheriff.

Unaware of Sproul's situation at that moment, as soon as she heard his voice she told him that a mutual friend was having some serious emotional difficulties and needed help. She told Dr. Sproul to call their friend immediately.

That defused the situation. Helping their friend was more important than ending his life. He could do that anytime. So, doing as he was told, Dr. Sproul called their troubled friend and told her he was on his way over. Then he put his gun in the glove compartment and drove to her home.

Suicidal thoughts did enter his mind again but he learned how to ask for help. And eventually God gave Sproul a reason to live.

Thousands of impoverished Haitians die of malnutrition and lack of health care annually. Missionary doctors are desperately needed. Dr. Sproul wants to help fill that need.

He knows life in Haiti will not be easy or cheap. Dr. Sproul must pay his own way to serve the Haitians and the Lord. But the once affluent doctor is now broke financially, even though he's restored in faith. Sproul believes God will provide for his mission to Haiti through the help of friends and community.

Haiti is the western third of the island of Hispaniola between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It's west of the Dominican Republic and about 50 miles from Cuba.

The land mass of Haiti is roughly one-third the size of Indiana. But only 20 per cent of the tiny island is arable and can grow crops to feed its nearly eight million inhabitants.

Most of the forests have been cut for fuel and to use the ground to plant whatever crop will grow. The resulting soil run off has ruined much of the crop land and has badly effected the country's fish source.

Haiti had centuries of internal power struggles to control the wealth of their once bountiful land. In 1957, physician Francois Duvalier, "Papa Doc", was elected to the presidency of Haiti. Papa Doc was an expert in voodoo who ruled Haiti with brute force and terror. His military force of Tontons Macoutes routinely executed his opponents. Duvalier declared himself president for life in 1964 and was succeeded by his son, "Baby Doc" Duvalier when Papa Doc died in 1971.

Eventually, the people rose up and drove out Baby Doc in 1986. They now have a struggling democracy under president Jean Bertrand Aristide. But the 30 years of dictatorship nearly decimated the once beautiful, copious island.

Health care is available to those who can afford it. Pharmaceutical supplies and medicine can be bought if the patient has the money. But class distinctions exists and are very evident.

Some people own million dollar homes, drive Jaguars and live the good life in Port-au-Prince, the state capital. Just 20 miles away the native Haitians live in shacks, ride donkeys or walk and die of malnutrition.

The average life expectancy in Haiti is 50 years. Ten per cent of children die before the age of five. Haiti is considered to be the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.

The average income of a Haitian family is less than the equivalent of $400 U.S. dollars a year. The vast majority of Haitians do not have the money to pay for medical care. The average doctor to patient ratio is one doctor to 12,000 people.

"What's driving me there," said Dr. Sproul, "is the desperate need for basic health care. I'll be working in the Lumiere Medical Ministries in the city of Les Cayes. It's a Christian non-denominational ministry.

"The official religion is Catholicism. The unofficial religion is Voodoo. Christianity gives the Haitian people hope."

Tomorrow: Dr. Sproul discusses his life and how he got to the verge of suicide.



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