DALLAS -- "I remember feeling vibration under my feet,” Karen Gardner recalled. “We shook, and then the next thing, I woke up underground. I woke up spitting dirt up to breathe."
The sights, sounds, and terror of that day never leave Karen Gardner.
Jan. 12, 2010, a catastrophic 7.0-magnitude earthquake turned much of Haiti into piles of rubble. The eye clinic Gardner and a team of missionaries from Highland Park United Methodist Church were working inside in the village of Petit Goave collapsed.
Gardner was trapped just feet from her friend, Jean Arnwine.
"She was on her back,” Gardner said, “and I was standing up, but twisted and packed up."
Gardner said only a tiny portion of her face and her right wrist and arm were exposed. She and Jean were both conscious and talking.
"We talked about what we would tell each other's family if the worst thing happened,” Gardner said. “She asked me to tell her family that she loved them very much. And I promised her I would and I asked her to do the same for my son and husband.”
It was a promise Gardner would have to keep.
When she was pulled from the concrete blocks hours later, Gardner had suffered serious injuries. Her right leg was punctured by rebar. She sustained a concussion, nerve damage in her left arm, and countless serious cuts and bruises.
Jean Arnwine said she couldn’t feel her legs. Team members would heroically stay by her side, trying to save Jean. But, in third-world conditions, she died from internal injuries.
Some thought the clinic would be lost with her.
But on the fourth anniversary, missionaries who survived the disaster returned to Haiti to dedicate a new eye clinic in honor of Jean Arnwine.
"We remember her and honor her as we continue this legacy,” said HPUMC outreach ministries coordinator Hillary Barnard. “Just like we honor those other people who lost their lives."
The new facility was built about 10 feet from where the other building collapsed. Volunteers raised about $150,000 for the project. The clinic provides eye glasses, surgeries, and other services to Haitians in need.
Karen Gardner was among those who returned, calling the dedication event “cathartic.” She, and other members of the missionary team four years ago, rarely talk of their experiences, but did participate in a HPUMC video posted at this link.
"I think about her every day,” Gardner said of her friend Jean. “Every day."
Karen Gardner said she knows Jean would've liked seeing the rebuilt clinic, and knowing the mission of spreading hope through sight continues.