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Slice of Life: Farewell to a humanitarian who gave his heart to Haiti, by Steve Gilbert

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Answering the calling

Ed Amos, left, and Doug MacNeil, a nurse practioner in the Cheshire Medical Center emergency room, worked together in numerous medical clinics in Haiti for many years. Amos, 74, who lived in Haiti for 14 years, died Monday.

Ed Amos wasn’t much for drawing attention to himself. Deeply spiritual, he preferred anonymity over notoriety, toiling evermore under the radar. Yet the effect he had on those who worked beside him was profound, the lives he saved and bettered from here to Haiti impossible to count.

Amos, 74, a retired physician assistant living in Newport, died Monday at the White River Junction VA Medical Center in Vermont while undergoing surgery for kidney cancer. He had suffered a heart attack a couple of weeks earlier, though undoubtedly it was less dramatic than the heart attack he survived years ago while driving on dirt-rutted roads back to Port-au-Prince in a rickety, old truck after leading a team of providers from the Keene area at a daylong medical clinic in Haiti.

Haiti was his calling, his salvation. He lived there for 14 years, from 2000 to 2014. He ran his own clinic in Port-au-Prince and ventured into some of the country’s poorest — and most dangerous — slums, bringing care to those who could not come to him.

His calling spread to much of the Keene medical community, as he inspired teams of doctors, nurses, physician assistants and nurse practitioners — and anyone else willing to help — to join him. At one point, rotating teams of eight from this area went to Haiti every other month. It’s no surprise one of those teams was there, stranded on the island of Ile-a-Vache, during the massive earthquake of January 2010.

Local doctors such as Don “Maz” Mazanowski, Doug Keene, Trish Campbell, Don Caruso and Sue Maydwell were regulars on those teams, as were then-city leaders like Tom Link. They voluntarily treated thousands upon thousands of people in Haiti, bringing their own medical supplies, paying for the pharmacies that filled their suitcases. Amos lived in a secure compound, partially protected by the numerous dogs he loved, and the providers crammed into a couple of bedrooms.

I was fortunate to have been invited to work on Doug MacNeil’s team starting in 2011. He’s a nurse practitioner in the Cheshire Medical Center emergency room, and one of Amos’ closest friends. Most of us on that team were Haiti first-timers, and we had a challenging and exhilarating week. We treated hundreds of people, and many of the nurses, so inspired by their experience and by Amos himself, went on to obtain advanced medical degrees. Amos also took Haitian-born providers under his tutelage, pushing them to further their education.

Amos’ pilgrimage to Haiti was born out of heartache: the death of his wife, Kathy Moynihan, in her early 50s due to cancer. They both worked at Cheshire Medical Center, and in our casual conversations, he told me she was the best ER nurse he ever knew. After her death, he volunteered for a week in Haiti and kept getting pulled back, ultimately leading to his permanent residency there.

Amos is originally from New Jersey and served for three years as a corpsman in the Navy. He did two tours in the Mediterranean on the USS Forrestal, went to Emory University in Atlanta and earned his PA. He has three children, Chris, Tamara and Kim, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Before coming to Cheshire, he worked at several medical facilities in New Hampshire.

In his retirement years, he was noted for riding a red Goldwing motorcycle with a rather conspicuous monkey (named Elmo) on the back. But describing Amos as cuddly would be pushing it. When we first met in Haiti and I told him I worked for a newspaper, his response was direct: “I don’t like reporters.” And he wasn’t smiling.

He would later explain he didn’t like the way Haiti was portrayed in the press, frequently used as a photo-op to glamorize the suffering of its people. After the earthquake, he was inundated with requests from journalists around the world to stay at his place. He largely didn’t like the coverage he saw when he allowed it.

Amos separated Haiti’s nefarious government — which was and is a mess — from Haitians themselves. Most he liked, some he didn’t. Most Haitians, though, are born into squalid conditions they have no control over, unlike most people born in the U.S. He learned about everyday hardships, conveying his knowledge to the teams that joined him. Listening to Amos explain what it’s like to spend a night in a Haitian jail (he never did himself) is something you never forget.

Dentistry became one of his favorite pastimes. Poor dental health is a huge problem in Haiti, and learning the rudiments of pulling teeth became a staple on his teams. With a dearth of dentists in the country, it was the only way to safely relieve their suffering. He’d leave you alone with a patient, but out of the corner of your eye, you could see him watching you out of the corner of his eye.

“Anyone who has worked with me knows that I will always throw you into the deep end of the pool,” he wrote in a blog, a phrase his teams heard often. “If you’re working within your comfort zone, you’re not working with me.”

Amos returned to Newport five years ago, worn out from Haiti and to be closer to his family. There, he fixed up a mobile home and retreated to the outdoors, which he loved, and reconnected with his family.

“Incredibly driven spiritually,” is MacNeil’s succinct tribute. It is not understated.

Steve Gilbert is a columnist for The Sentinel.

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