A good-looking young man in a t-shirt and sweat shorts walked down the street about half a mile from Yale University this weekend. Two things distinguished him from the thousands of other students living in this college town—the gentle Creole lilt to his voice and a prosthetic leg. Meet Ralph Mary Gedeon, 22, a Haitian engineering student who was buried alive when his school collapsed from the Haiti earthquake January 12, 2010.
It took more than one miracle to save Ralph Gedeon’s life that day. In fact it took several miracles that came in the persons of his father, Raphael Gedeon and a Scientology Volunteer Minister from Rockland County, New York.
Ralph’s father, Raphael Gedeon, counted himself lucky when the shaking stopped and his home was still standing. But the elation turned quickly to anxiety when his son, an engineering student at University GOC in Port-au-Prince, failed to return home from school. His growing fear became worse than a nightmare when he arrived at the college and found a mound of rubble where the school had been. Another man might have given up in despair right then. But Raphael was determined to find and save his son. He kept walking throughout the destroyed campus, calling his son’s name. A day later the first miracle occurred.
When the college collapsed Ralph was pinned face down under tons of concrete and cinder block. And he was not alone. Two other young men were buried nearby. They could hear one another crying out in pain and despair. A day passed, and Ralph was rapidly losing touch. He suddenly had a vision of father, and cried out—”I am here!” At that exactly moment Raphael was standing right above him. He heard his son’s cry.
It took another day and a half to break up enough of the concrete with the help of friends and pull his son from the rubble.
Some 1500 miles to the north, Ayal Lindeman, a Scientology Volunteer Minister from Rockland County, New York, was ready to leave for Haiti and was already organizing a Church of Scientology chartered flight bringing doctors, nurses and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to Port-au-Prince along with a team of Volunteer Ministers. Lindeman left on the second Scientology-sponsored chartered flight, arriving in Haiti Thursday, January 21.
Lindeman, 54, is a disaster relief veteran, having served as a Scientology Volunteer Minister in nine major disasters including the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Lindeman is also an EMT and licensed practical nurse (LPN). But none of this prepared him for what he was about to see when he walked into General Hospital.
“The conditions at the hospital defied expression,” said Lindeman. “No sanitation. For many nights, no light. No way to protect soaked dressings from contaminated mattresses. No sheets or bed covers of any kind. Now I’m pretty tough, but this place drove me to tears.”
Lindeman came to know the Gedeons while pulling 20-hour shifts at the hospital, and says Ralph’s father never left his son’s side. “His father would softly ask for assistance or come and stand nearby when Ralph’s IV was close to running out.” Lindeman assisted in a procedure done on Ralph to remove dead tissue from his leg. When the doctors saw the condition of the wound, they realized the only way they would be able to save Ralph’s life was by amputating the leg.
Ralph remembers those days at General Hospital. “I suffered greatly,” he said. “I never understood pain before. The doctor told me the infection would get worse and worse and would finally reach my heart and kill me. I would die.” They told him the only way to prevent this was to remove the leg. “But I needed a leg to walk, to get to school, to walk around the house. I didn’t see how I could live without one. I thought, okay—then I will die.”
Raphael dearly loves his son but would not talk him into an amputation, condemning him to a hopeless life as a cripple in a country where amputees are outcasts.
Learning that Ralph decided against the amputation, Lindeman refused to just stand by and watch the infection kill the boy.
“The motto of the Scientology Volunteer Ministers is ‘Something can be done about it,’ and here was a circumstance where I really had to pass this test.” He decided to call an old high school friend, Dr. David Henry Gibson, now Chief of Orthopedic Surgery Yale University Medical School. Cell phone calls were simply not going through, but he tried anyway, the phone rang and Dr. Gibson picked up. Knowing Lindeman’s commitment to help, no matter where it is needed, he said “I won’t even ask where you are. What do you need?” Lindeman told him about Ralph—that he wanted to get Ralph a prosthetic leg. Dr. Gibson’s answer—”I’ll do it.” He agreed to do whatever it took. The Hospital of Saint Raphael in New Haven, Connecticut agreed to cover the hospital stay and all additional expenses.”
Lindeman then went to see Ralph, and told him, ‘you have to live a long life because some day your father is going to need you to be there for him, the way he is here for you now.’ I made him a deal—if he went through with the surgery to amputate the leg, I would personally see that he got a prosthetic leg and the physical and occupational therapy to live a normal life.”
Ralph had the operation, a mid-thigh amputation, and now Lindeman had to keep his end of the bargain.
With the medical care lined up, it was then a matter of getting Ralph to New Haven, Connecticut. The young man was in such serious condition, he would need continuous care from the time he left Haiti until he got to St. Raphael’s hospital. Military and private aid agency simply weren’t set up to provide this kind of service. After contacting every possible lead, Lindeman finally found ISTAT, the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading. “They not only agreed to fly Ralph to the US they also took on transporting two other hospital cases who would die without specialist care in the U.S. They were incredible.”
Entrusted by Raphael to care for his son, Lindeman flew with Ralph to Tweed Airport in Connecticut where an American Medical Response ambulance arranged by Dr. Gibson rushed them to St. Raphael’s hospital.
Once admitted to St. Raphael’s, there were several more hurdles for Ralph to overcome. The surgical team found the infection was in Ralph’s bone. “If he hadn’t been brought to the US and given the level of expert care he received from Dr. Gibson and the St. Raphael’s team, Ralph would eventually have lost all the bone up to the hip and even that might not have handled it. He would have died.” said Lindeman. It took 10 separate surgical procedures to make it possible for Ralph to have a prosthetic leg he could use.
Ralph says this experience has taught him two things: patience and personal strength. “I could not have made it for two days when I was buried under the rubble and then in the hospital without patience. I never had it before. I learned it then,” says Ralph. “The second is that I never understood pain before. I suffered greatly and now I understand how people suffer. I understand others better and it has given me the strength to live.”
“I went through with the operation because Ayal promised me I would have a leg. He didn’t want me to die, and now I can walk,” says Ralph with a smile. “I thank the Church of Scientology and Scientologists for everything they did to help me.”
As for learning to use his new leg, Ralph says, “They said it would take me six months, but in a few weeks I could walk with a cane and now I can walk without it.”
And about Lindeman, Ralph says “He gave me my life. He is like a father to me. He gave me everything. He treated me like a son.”
On Friday, June 25, Ralph’s father Raphael will be arriving in at JFK Airport in New York, to visit his son. Thanks to Lindeman, the next time they meet, Ralph will walk over to greet his father—on his own “two feet.”
For more information on the Scientology Volunteer Ministers, visit their website at www.volunteerministers.org .