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Washington Nurse Drawn to Challenge of Helping Patients in Haiti

Matthew Bouthillier, RN, BSN, loved the challenge of treating patients without the resources of a modern hospital.

He found it exciting to work in an atmosphere where “you’re not given cotton balls in a package. You make your own,” said Kendal Smith, an ED tech and coworker in the Issaquah ED of Swedish Medical Center in Washington.

Bouthillier jumped at the chance to help patients in Haiti after the country’s devastating January earthquake, said Kristen Westfall, RN, who also works in the Issaquah ED. Bouthillier thought his experience as an ED nurse would help save lives, she said.

“He loved patients that truly had a need,” she said, adding that he would say he wanted to be a part of something big.

His can-do attitude is one of the things friends and coworkers remember most about Bouthillier, 36, who died of cardiac arrest in March while on the medical mission in Haiti. He is survived by his wife, Melissa and sons Brian and Logan.

The ‘Gentle Giant’ in Haiti

Matthew Bouthillier, RN, tends to a patient in Honduras.

Bouthillier’s caring demeanor, exuberant personality and physical stature earned him the nickname “Gentle Giant” in Haiti, said Westfall, who also went on that mission.

The group set up mobile clinics and was ready to fill whatever roles were needed, Westfall said.

“He had so many more plans” to continue going on medical missions, she said.

Bouthillier had been on a medical mission to Honduras in 2009. Although he didn’t speak Spanish, he was able to convey care for his patients in his body language, said Smith, who accompanied him. Smith recalled that Bouthillier wasn’t one to shy away from getting dirty and would kneel to a patient’s level to make him or her feel more comfortable.

Memories From Home

Bouthillier also would step up to challenges at the Issaquah ER while keeping his sense of humor, co-workers said.

His “Mattitude” would help relieve the tension of working in the ED and build camaraderie among his colleagues. Lisa Knutson, RN, BSN, remembered how Bouthillier would put patients at ease in what many found to be an embarrassing situation by telling them they weren’t at fault and that it was his job to help them. “He just did it with such grace,” she said.

He also liked to play practical jokes, like when he put Westfall’s water bottle in a plaster cast and Smith had to cut it out with casting scissors, Smith remembered.

If a co-worker left an online calendar up on the screen, Bouthillier would enter tasks to complete, such as “pay Matt,” Knutson said. Those jokes would help everyone get through their days, she added.

When Bouthillier walked into work, the nurses were glad he would be on duty, Smith said.

“He was a good friend, a very good nurse and a great dad,” Westfall added.

By | 2020-04-15T14:23:32-04:00 July 12th, 2010|Categories: Regional, West|0 Comments

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