The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 15, 2013

Sunday Forum: Labor of Love Project a long-term commitment

The Joplin Globe

— Since her first trip to Haiti in 2010, Dr. Cheryl Fogarty has visited the country 12 times. On Saturday,  the third anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, Fogarty and two other Joplin doctors, Brad Coy and David Baker, flew back to Haiti to perform surgeries at the outpatient and maternity clinics at Haitian Christian Mission in Fond-Parisien, a small village approximately 23 miles from the country’s capital city, Port-Au-Prince.

Additionally, the group of surgeons will be joined by team leaders who will begin the initial construction phase of a 40-bed hospital and neonatal intensive care unit that Fogarty has helped plan and finance.

“My brain and heart always get geared up before a trip,” Fogarty said when asked about the lessons she has learned during her three-year experience providing skilled maternal health care for women residing near the village. “What I have learned is that God always puts the right team in place to do his work. God already knows the people that we will see. He knows who we will be able to help medically and those who we can help spiritually.”

‘What am I supposed to do?’

In July of 2010, Fogarty and seven others from Joplin boarded a plane bound for Haiti. Once on the plane, Cheryl felt a wave of peace envelop her. She told herself, “This is what you’re supposed to do.”

Then she got off the plane in Haiti. Fogarty, who has suffered from chronic asthma since childhood and depended on inhalers and several medications to breathe freely, was unprepared for the stench of decay she inhaled when she stepped off the plane and into the suffocating heat and humidity of Port-Au-Prince.

Six months before her first trip to Haiti, Fogarty began a quest to understand her life’s mission.

“I had achieved all my goals,” she said. “My husband and I have been together for 20 years. We have four children, a beautiful home, and my practice is thriving. Yet I felt there was something more I was supposed to do. So, I prayed and asked God, ‘What is it? What am I supposed to do?’ And then the earthquake hit. And then I knew.”

I smiled and nodded as Fogarty told her story, cringing inside just a little bit when she mentioned the words, God and pray. I had invited Fogarty to coffee at our local Panera Bread Co. so she could tell me a bit about her medical mission trips to Haiti. I could then use her story to help inspire readers to use their talents to help others, too. I had no intention of speaking about God.

I don’t write much about spirituality and God. It’s far too easy to credit God’s “goodness” when circumstances in our lives go the way we want them to.

In spite of this skeptical attitude, about 30 minutes into our conversation I realized that what Fogarty was involved in was bigger than me, her or even the small mission group she initially traveled with to Haiti. As I listened intently to the incidents that led Fogarty to decide to help fund a maternity clinic, an outpatient clinic, an orphanage and the upcoming construction of a 40-bed hospital and neonatal intensive care unit, I recognized the thread of something powerful weaving through our lives, carefully connecting us to each other.

The idea to go to Haiti didn’t come to Fogarty via a call for physicians through an organized medical effort, as I had originally presumed.

“About 10 days after the earthquake, I woke up at 3 a.m.,” she said. “I looked over at my husband and said, ‘I have to go to Haiti.’”

Baby girl

Unfortunately, getting to Haiti after the devastating 7.0 earthquake that hit on Jan. 12, 2010, proved challenging. Port-Au-Prince was decimated. Chaos ruled. Organized relief efforts proved difficult if not impossible. Safety was Fogarty’s No. 1 concern, and she began earnestly searching for a way to fulfill her goals while not exposing herself to danger.

“Doctors were working alone in tents with little more than whatever tools they could fit in a backpack,” Fogarty said. “It just wasn’t safe for a woman to go by herself. I had a husband and four children. I still needed to find a way to travel safely.”

Finally, in late spring 2010, a friend told her about a group from Forest Park Baptist Church in Joplin that was heading to Haiti for mission work. Fogarty contacted the group’s leader, Brock Cummins.

After the group cleared customs at the airport, it set off for the village of Fond-Parisien, headquarters for the mission they were assigned to, Haitian Christian Mission.

Once they arrived and got settled, they met with the mission’s leader and founder, Pastor Etienne Prophette.

“You are from Joplin?” the Haitian native asked. “I graduated from Ozark Christian College (in Joplin) in 1974!”

Immediately a bond formed between the pastor, his wife and son, and the small group from Forest Park.

The next day, Sunday, the group attended its first Haitian church service. About an hour or so into the service, a messenger entered the sanctuary and informed the congregation there was an emergency. Intrigued, Fogarty, an obstetricians-gynecologist in Joplin, followed the messenger to the makeshift outpatient clinic hoping she might be of some assistance. To her surprise, she found a pregnant woman who was three weeks overdue, in labor, and needing an emergency cesarean section. The woman and her husband were turned away from a Port-Au-Prince hospital because of their inability to pay the $1,000 cost of surgery. Once his wife was settled into the clinic, the man left to bring his mother-in-law back to the mission to say her final good-byes.

Fogarty informed the patient that she did not have to worry about any charges. Fogarty’s intent was to perform the lifesaving procedure regardless of the patient’s ability to pay. Twelve hours after her arrival in Haiti, Fogarty successfully delivered and resuscitated a baby girl — named, appropriately, “Cheryl” by her parents — and realized her personal mission in Haiti:  to help mothers and children, one at a time, and ultimately help teach them to help each other.

Getting the story out

Fogarty’s financial and professional contributions have helped HCM’s maternity clinic deliver over 1,600 babies. Her funding for the three full-time midwives and part-time OB-GYN physician that staff the mission’s maternity clinic helped lower the death rate for women in childbirth from 10 percent to 0.3 percent.

 She helps support an orphanage at the mission and also helped procure a playground for the orphanage’s children after a chance meeting with the head of an organization that builds playgrounds in Haiti. During her most recent trip this past November, she and her group finalized plans for the construction of a new 40-bed hospital and neonatal ICU on the mission’s grounds. While in Haiti, she realized that she and her partners needed to be more open to telling the story of their work in Fond-Parisien in order to procure the funding necessary to support the proposed hospital. Ironically, I contacted her about the idea of writing a piece about her work in Haiti approximately two days after she returned from her last visit. She agreed to my interview because, as she says, “Here is my chance to get my story out to people who can help.”

I must admit, I felt a great responsibility to tell Fogarty’s story as accurately as possible. Chills ran through my body as I listened to Cheryl tick off each coincidence, one by one, that led her from one project to the next in her mission work. And I realized something vital to my own perception of God: A person of true faith understands and accepts that there are some things beyond her control. Instead of worrying about why the world is full of injustices, she opens herself up to the possibility that her talents and gifts can be used to help others.

Fogarty’s nonprofit agency, the Labor of Love Project, which she established to help fund medical personnel at Haitian Christian Mission, needs assistance in funding the operations of the new hospital she is helping build.

And remember how dependent Fogarty was on her inhaler and asthma medications? She hasn’t used any of them since she first set foot in Haiti back in 2010.

Dawn Sticklen lives in Joplin and writes a lifestyle blog focusing on local issues. It can be found at She is also a Joplin School District board member.