Dr. Claude Louis was born in Qui Croit, a tiny farming village in the mountains of Haiti with no electricity, running water or, at the time, roads. The nearest medical clinic was at least four hours away by foot, so Louis’ father, who had only a basic education, learned enough about first aid and immunizations to care for adults and children.
When Louis was an infant, his dad was struck dead by a lightning bolt as he walked home between two other relatives, both of whom were uninjured. Louis, the youngest of three siblings, grew up hearing stories of praise for his father and wanted to be just like him. By high school, he had a bigger vision: He would become an actual doctor.
“I had people say I was out of my mind, or make jokes,” he recalls. “I was just a kid from the mountains –not supposed to climb very high. But I stuck to my dream.”
With hard work and financial support from local missionaries, Louis graduated from medical school in Haiti before relocating to the United States for a residency at the University of Kansas. Since 2015, he has worked as a family practice physician at Riverside Medical Group in Hampton.
His incredible story, though, is far from over.
In 2008, Louis founded a nonprofit, Words in Action, to raise money for better health care and education in Haiti. His efforts have built a medical clinic in Qui Croit, with three consultation rooms, a pharmacy, space for a lab and overnight care for sicker patients. A nurse is there to see patients, and Louis travels to Haiti with a team of physicians three or four times a year. He soon hopes to work with the Haitian government to staff the clinic with medical residents.
Louis, 38, also plans to create Qui Croit’s first library, with reading materials in French and Haitian Creole (the first language of kids in the village). His wife, a Canadian native whose best friend married his best friend, has begun to gather books. In the meantime, Louis covers educational expenses for about 20 kids a year, noting that Haiti’s free public schools have limited space and many families struggle to pay for private school.
“My passion is children,” he says. “If there were not people who cared about me, who believed in me and who invested in me, I would not be where I am today. All those children need the same opportunity to succeed.”
Louis mastered English after moving into the Baptist Haiti Mission as a young teenager to be near his high school. He helped cover his tuition by working as a pharmacy night clerk and translator, both after school and during summer breaks.
Although he had planned to move back to Haiti after his residency, Louis felt he could do more to help his family and other Haitians by earning a higher salary in America. While his brother lives in Florida, most of his relatives are still in Haiti, including his mother, his sister and her four children.
All money donated to Words in Action goes directly to his home country, Louis emphasizes. He also plans to pour any profits from a biography he’s writing – hopefully available next year – into motivating other children to pursue their dreams.
Now a father himself, Louis is eager to introduce his baby girl to his beloved home country. “A lot of people only see Haiti as a place of despair, but that’s absolutely not true,” he says. “Yes, there are negative things that happen, but when you get into the resiliency of the people – they still believe that one day things will get better. They don’t complain. They work hard. They love life. They are always welcoming. There is a lot of greatness there.”
One more incredible fact: The name of Louis’ hometown, “Qui Croit,” translated from the French, means “Who Believes.”