Barb Howell and Tim Poetzl

Barb Howell delivers Tim Poetzl's second COVID-19 vaccination shot after first treating him on the other side of the world 24 years ago when they first met in Papua New Guinea.

This big world is full of twists and turns.

Tim Poetzl credits Barb Howell for saving him from tragedy 24 years ago in Papua New Guinea. When he ran into her last March in Stanwood, she had the opportunity to help him again. 

Poetzl and Howell were surprised to run into each other during COVID-19 vaccinations at Safe Harbor Clinic in Stanwood in mid-March. So Poetzl made sure to have Howell deliver his second dose last week, for old time’s sake.

“It was fun to see him grown up and leading a church,” Howell said.

Turns out these two Midwesterners met 24 years ago as missionaries in the South Pacific in Papua New Guinea, an island just north of Australia.

In the fall of 1997, Poetzl was 19 and traveling the world. He couldn’t get much farther from his upbringing in Colorado and Iowa than the mission in Papua New Guinea.  

Poetzl was staying in a remote village out in the bush in the middle of the mountainous highlands.

People there learn as children to wield machetes and handle dangerous tools as they climb trees and go through the bush. For sport, they roll avocados and shoot them with arrows.

“The kids grow up with those knives. They’re so young, you’d think, oh, they shouldn’t have them,” Howell said.

One day, he was hacking his way with a machete. He cut his left shin down to the bone. First, he tried to sew his wide-open wound shut with thread, but the pain was making him pass out. He finished the job with super glue.

“I was trying to be like the great bushmen of Papua New Guinea, but didn’t have the skills,” Poetzl said.

People in the village helped him, but a month later, his leg was very infected.

“I had to drain it every couple of hours; it was bad,” he said.

Because of mutual friends, Poetzl ended up at Howell’s house. She was there as a missionary, working medical clinics. Although it was their first meeting, they found they had a lot in common. Howell was also from the Midwest and from the same family of churches, the Open Bible denomination. They also had gone to the same college in Oregon, Eugene Bible College.

She knew members of Tim Poetzl’s distant family, although he didn’t know it at the time.

Howell said she was alarmed when she saw his leg, because the infection was close to the bone. With her years of experience of treating infections in tropical climates, she cleaned the wound with a “bush medicine” and dressed it.

Within a few days, the wound started to heal.

Second meeting

Fast forward 24 years to March 2021 in Stanwood.

Now, Poetzl is pastor of Four Square Church. He’s been on the board nine years at Safe Harbor Clinic board, holding a number of positions. He’s currently vice president.

Howell lived in Papua New Guinea 31 years before returning to the U.S. She's been working with Safe Harbor for a year, but didn’t know Poetzl was on the board.

Poetzl went in for his first vaccination, and the nurse greeted him and his wife, Anna. Howell noticed the unusual name.

“I’m the person who fixed your leg,” Howell told him.

His wife, Anna Poetzl, was thrilled.

“I came out and said you’re my hero, you saved his life and I don’t have a one-legged husband,” she said.

Without Howell's care, gangrene could have set in.

“I probably would have gotten a bone infection and had my leg amputated,” he said.

Now she’s preventing another possible infection by delivering the COVID-19 vaccine.

Contact reporter Peggy Wendel at or 360-416-2189.

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