Dr. Dan Ruggles ’99

ruggles-danThere is little potable water and less food. Hundreds of thousands are dead, and the stench of death overtakes the country, leaving survivors vying for toothpaste to rub under their noses — their only escape from the odor.  

Seven days after the 2010 Haitian earthquake, Dr. Dan Ruggles ’99 does not focus on the filth of the disaster around him; he only hears the suffering cries of those desperate for the coveted medical attention.

He is in Port-au-Prince, close to the epicenter and among some of the most severe damage, managing one of the two hospitals still standing. There are six functional operating rooms, not nearly enough to aid the overwhelming need. Ruggles, an orthopedic surgeon, spends the next two weeks managing medical teams from the United States, Korea, Jamaica, Sweden and Canada, while operating nonstop to save every life and limb possible. It is his decision of who will receive treatment, and who will not.

In the days leading up the 2010 earthquake, Ruggles was practicing at Children’s Hospital in Central California, working toward his Board Certification. He had just signed on with CURE International, a Christian-based medical nonprofit organization, and was waiting to begin his international experience. Then the 7.0 Mw earthquake happened, and Ruggles followed his mentor, Dr. Scott Nelson, the Medical Director for the CURE hospital in the Dominican Republic, to Haiti. 

“You see the world different after such an experience. You realize how blessed we are in the U.S. and cannot help but realize what truly is important in life,” Ruggles says. “For the first time in my career and hopefully the last, a patient died on my OR table. Her name was Bernice.”

In October of that same year, Ruggles assumed Nelson’s position as Medical Director for CURE International in the Dominican Republic to continue providing medical aide to patients with the most critical need. CURE exists in 25 countries worldwide to provide life changing surgical treatment to disabled children “regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity, or ability to pay.” 

In Santo Domingo, the largest city in the Dominican Republic, Ruggles practices pediatric orthopedic surgery for families who can often only pay for the medical care in sacks of fresh mangos. But it is about far more than the payment for Ruggles. He feels so passionately about his work having seen firsthand the extreme need for high quality medicine; most orthopedic problems in children of developing countries go untreated due to lack of resources, and can leave them permanently maimed.

“The one difference that drives me toward this work is knowing that here in the Dominican Republic, like other developing countries, there is a greater need for pediatric orthopedics and that these children often have no other options to find care,” Ruggles says.

His daily life working with these children, while not as traumatic as his two weeks in Haiti, continually humbles, challenges, and moves Ruggles. He recalls one patient, a young boy named Jose, who sought medical attention for what would prove to be an irreparably deformed hip. Ruggles asked Jose his age, but he did not know, guessing that he was maybe 14. Ruggles and his staff then found a copy of the boy’s birth certificate, discovering that Jose had turned 15 just a few weeks earlier.

“So we surprised him with a cake, a few gifts, and sang ‘Happy Birthday!’ There wasn’t a whole lot more I could offer him surgically, but it was a great day. I’ve found that making a difference in kids lives does not always involve a scalpel.”

Ruggles knew his calling was in the medical field and began its pursuit as an Athletic Training major at Marietta. Sam Crowther, Director of the Athletic Training Program, knew Ruggles as both a student of the program and an athlete during his time at Marietta. 

“I kept in contact with Dan after he left Marietta College and knew he was interested in pursuing a career in orthopedics,” Crowther says. “I am very proud and happy for Dan. It looks like he is in his element doing wonderful things.”

Besides missing college football Saturdays and Starbucks, Ruggles feels blessed to be working for CURE in places like Haiti and Santo Domingo, with his wife Susan, a pediatric nurse, at his side.

“Whether working in the U.S. or the D.R., sharing experiences with friends and colleagues devoted to helping others continues to inspire me,” Ruggles says. “A friend once shared with me this quote by Forest E. Witcraft: ‘A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove; however, the world will be different because I was important in the life of a child.’ ”