Many years ago, after graduating from medical school, I worked for several months in a clinic in El Valle, a little town in the central highlands of the Dominican Republic. The staff at the clinic consisted of me, another physician fresh out of school, and a nurse—all under the supervision of a doctor who’d just completed his residency. Together, the four of us lived and worked in a cinder-block building with two examination rooms, a small surgical area, a waiting room, and some tiny sleeping quarters.

Since the nearest hospital was more than an hour and a half’s drive away, we offered the only medical care for the entire region. Despite our meager stores of drugs and equipment, we saw nearly seventy patients each day and treated nearly every conceivable disorder. People would literally walk barefoot for a day to come to our clinic, and often were hopelessly ill. I felt as if I’d somehow been transported back in time to a different reality, far from the one I had known.

Although I spoke workable Spanish, communication was often difficult because many of our patients were French-speaking migrant workers from Haiti who spoke Spanish haltingly. Once, a young Haitian woman was brought to us in a state of shock after her arm was mangled by a threshing machine. We rushed her to our makeshift operating room and poured IV fluids into her as we struggled to control the bleeding. Her hematocrit was so low it barely registered on our equipment. She needed blood badly, and it was clear that we were going to lose her without it.

The sole method we had for giving blood was a direct transfusion from one person to another. With our rudimentary blood-typing kit, the only potential donor we could find was her younger brother. His Spanish was poor, but he seemed to understand when we explained that we needed to take some of his blood to save his sister. He turned a little pale, sat silent for a moment, and asked if there was any other way. “No,” I replied, and he slowly nodded his head in agreement.

We placed an IV in him and began transfusing his sister. Almost immediately, she started regaining her color. Her brother smiled as he saw this, then turned his head to me, and in his soft, broken Spanish asked, “Cuando voy a morir?”—“When will I die?” I stood dumbfounded, and then realized he’d misunderstood our explanations and thought we needed all his blood to save his sister.

The situation seemed humorous, until a stunning fact hit me. This child, this precious child, with hardly a moment’s hesitation, had been willing to sacrifice his life to save the sister he loved. At that moment, I stood in awe of this boy. As I looked down at him, his face glowed with a kind of radiance, and despite his fear, he seemed at peace.