Local News

Haiti quake survivor: 'I came here dead, coming out alive'

Posted June 3, 2010 12:11 p.m. EDT
Updated June 3, 2010 4:59 p.m. EDT

— A survivor of the January earthquake that devastated Haiti credited God and his wife for bringing him to the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill.

Eric Louis, a construction worker, was next to a gas station that exploded when the 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit on Jan. 12. A third of his body had second- and third-degree burns, particularly his head, hands, back and toes.

"I came here dead, and I'm coming out alive," Louis said through an interpreter Thursday at a press conference.

Louis arrived at the N.C. Burn Center two weeks after the earthquake. He underwent six major surgeries, including four skin grafts. On Thursday, he was ready to be released from the hospital.

"I came from an area with dead bodies, and I didn't know anything about this hospital, but God sent me to this hospital to take good care of him," his wife Yvita said, also through a translator. "If I didn't come to this hospital, my husband would be dead probably."

The couple repeatedly thanked God for bringing them to the N.C. Burn Center and mentioned nurses and doctors by name.

Louis had bandages on only one finger, and he has regained some use of his hands and can walk.

He left the hospital wearing a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ball cap and a T-shirt celebrating the Tar Heels' 2007 ACC championship. Yvita Louis pushed her husband out in a wheelchair, then helped him walk to a waiting car.

"We have terrible tragedies and terrible challenges that we face. And it's folks like Louises and what they've been able to accomplish that makes it wonderful for us," Dr. Bruce Cairns, director of the burn center, said.

Doctors said that Louis still has much rehabilitation and therapy ahead of him. The couple will stay at a nearby facility for critical care patients. Haitian-Americans and churches in the Triangle have been helping the couple.

Louis credited his wife for his survival. "Without my wife, I wouldn't have made it," he said.

After the gas station exploded, she found him and carried him 10 miles through the rubble to a hospital, but there were no doctors there. She took him home and cared for him for four days until Dr. Chris Sawyer, part of a medical mission team from Knoxville, Tenn., arranged for him to be airlifted to the U.S.

"After God, she's the one who saved my life, the way she has always has had my side. I love her so much," Louis said at the news conference Thursday.

Yvita Louis smiled and touched him on the hand and shoulder. "I love my husband so much," she replied.

The couple has "a harrowing story to share," Cairns said. "It really reminds us of how tremendous the human spirit really is."