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Caring about others brought Elmira nurse to Haiti

Yvonne Martin was in her sixties and a grandmother of 10, but she had the energy of a much younger woman. During her annual mission trips to Haiti, she rode in the back of a pickup truck and slept on a dirt floor without complaining or losing any enthusiasm for the work she was doing.

Martin, 67, died in Tuesday’s devastating earthquake in Haiti. She was the first confirmed Canadian casualty of the magnitude seven quake.

Yvonne Martin, seen here with husband Ron, was killed when the building she was in collapsed during the earthquake that hit Haiti.
Yvonne Martin, seen here with husband Ron, was killed when the building she was in collapsed during the earthquake that hit Haiti.

Martin was part of a team of seven nurses from the Kitchener-Waterloo area that was in Haiti to conduct medical clinics in the northern part of the country. This was her fourth trip to Haiti; she made the trip every January.
“This had been her focus since she retired,” said Martin’s oldest son Luke.

Luke and his brothers Terry and Dean gathered at Terry’s home Thursday afternoon to share memories of their mother. An active woman who loved people and had an open-door policy, she was also prayerful, and faith was a big part of her life.

Yvonne was a nurse at the Elmira Medical Centre for more than 30 years before she retired. After retirement, she dedicated a great deal of her time to Haiti; she spent all year planning and fundraising for her trip and practicing her Haitian Creole.

Val Thomson, a friend and coworker of Martin’s for 29 years, said Martin always encouraged her to go to Haiti.

“She was always almost overwhelmed by the poverty and didn’t feel like she was doing enough,” Thomson said. “She was the most loving, caring and kind person I ever knew, and a great role model – I always wanted to be like her.”

One of the things Yvonne enjoyed about her trips to Haiti was returning to the same communities and seeing all her hundreds of patients again.

After her many years of nursing in Elmira, she had even wider connections in this area. Luke, who now lives in San Diego, said he could ask her about high school friends he hadn’t seen in 10 years, and she could tell him how they were doing, who they had married and how many children they had.

“It wasn’t that she was a busybody; she really cared about people.”

Dr. Michael Norris, who knew Martin since he started at the Elmira Medical Centre 25 years ago, said she was a mentor for many of the nurses and new physicians. Not only was she familiar with office procedure, but her knowledge of the community and the families who came into clinic was always helpful.

“It was often invaluable, understanding who you’re dealing with, not just the item at hand,” Norris said.

After her retirement, she still dropped by the medical centre and was happy to help out when needed, as when they asked for help with holding H1N1 immunization clinics last fall.

Martin’s team, sponsored by the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada, was scheduled to be in Haiti for two weeks. They arrived in the capital, Port-au-Prince, shortly before the quake and had just settled into their guest house when the tremors struck and the building collapsed.

Communication lines out of the country have been disrupted; families of the other members of the team received updates via text message.

Bob Raymer, whose wife Marilyn was in Haiti with the team, said they practiced texting just the week before she left. It was through text message that he learned there had been an earthquake, and that Yvonne was missing.

The guest house they were supposed to be staying in is Wall’s International Guest House, started by a couple from Waterloo and a source of funds for the Foundation for International Development Assistance. The destruction of the guesthouse is another blow to the devastated country, as the money raised by hosting tourists, medical teams and mission groups went back into development projects in Haiti.

On Thursday, the other six members of the group were still at the airport, waiting for a military transport plane that was to take them to Dominican Republic. From there, the team was to fly back to Canada.

Luke, Terry, Dean and their father Ron have been supported by an outpouring of sympathy and offers of help from people in the community – many of them people that Yvonne had helped in the past.
“Community for her was so big,” Luke said. “It’s a real loss.”

Anyone wishing to donate to the Mennonite Central Committee’s disaster relief effort can do so at Brian’s Photo, Arthur Street South in Elmira. Cheques are preferred, but cash is also acceptable, and receipts will be issued. Cheques should be made out to MCC or MCC Ontario.

The Elmira branches of TD Bank, Bank of Montreal and RBC are accepting donations to the Red Cross.

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