Haiti mission is like pulling teeth, but worth it for Orland Hills teen
BY CHERYL DANGEL BARTOLINI Correspondent March 15, 2013 3:54PM
Anne Kotterer at Sandburg High School in Orland Park, IL, on Friday, February 8, 2013. She went on a medical mission trip in October to Haiti where she assisted doctors and dentists, often seeing 300 patients a day. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 19, 2013 6:01AM
Many high school students travel each year to faraway destinations on mission trips to help the impoverished.
They build homes, work in orphanages and distribute necessities to those who don’t possess what here would be the basics of everyday life.
But when Annie Kotterer, a senior at Sandburg High School in Orland Park, recently traveled to Haiti on a medical mission trip to assist doctors and dentists, she found herself doing something she didn’t expect.
Kotterer, 17, visited Haiti in the fall as part of a trip sponsored by SMI Haiti Ministries, based in Martinsville, Ind.
A typical day consisted of trekking through the mountains on foot for about three hours to reach the clinic in a remote spot where residents rarely get medical attention.
“The Haitians who live in the mountains go up and down the mountain every day. It was good to see how they live and how they get around, which is mainly on foot,” Kotterer said.
On her first day, she assisted doctors and nurses. She loaded syringes, cleaned instruments and distributed ibuprofen and antibiotics as needed.
“On the second day, they said, ‘Pull this tooth.’ It was really hard at first,” Kotterer said. “There’s a lot of twisting and turning and pulling, but you want to be soft about it and not hurt them more than they are hurting. It was scary.”
Kotterer and her group would see about 300 patients a day, she said. They would work from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. seeing patients lined up to be looked at in five chairs.
Kotterer’s aunt, Donna Stealy, of Culver, Ind., had encouraged her to take the trip.
“My aunt told me the Haitians really needed help and that it would be a great experience. It would change how I viewed things,” Kotterer said.
It did. When Kotterer returned home to Orland Hills, her bags were lighter than when she left.
“I took everything I didn’t need out of my life. I left all of my clothes and the three pairs of shoes I brought there, along with bug spray, shampoo and flashlights because they don’t have electricity there,” she said. “I got rid of things I didn’t need, and now I don’t take anything for granted. They have nothing there and we have everything here. We eat every day, and there they don’t have shoes.”
This realization made Kotterer value her life, her family and all she has even more.
“My parents (Sharon and Ray Kotterer) always do everything for me and they work hard to give me what I have,” she said. “They push me and help me figure things out for myself and they taught me how to do everything. They keep me on track and won’t let me make bad decisions.”
From home, she helps the Haitians in long-distance ways. She and her mother sponsor a Haitian child for $20 a month.
“That gives them all their school supplies, uniform, shoes, a backpack and a daily meal, which is their only meal during the day, consisting of rice and beans,” she said.
The trip was a good learning experience for Kotterer in many ways. She chose a medical mission trip because she would like to go to medical school if the opportunity arises. In the meantime, she’s planning on a career as an athletic trainer.
For the past four years, she’s been in the athletic trainer program at Sandburg. She also has participated in the school’s emergency medical technician program, and will be a licensed EMT if she passes her national exam in May.
She plans to get into Purdue University’s pre-athletic training program next school year. Longer-term goals include earning her master’s degree in athletic training and then going into physical therapy.
“I’d like to be an athletic trainer for the Chicago Blackhawks,” she said. “I want to do something I love. I want to get everything I can out of life.”