Monday, November 12, 2007

Mauricio Returns

Mauricio and his mother, Ancelie, returned to Port-au-Prince this past Friday. The cardiologist in St. Louis cleared him medically earlier in the week. Mauricio had had some fluid around his heart, but this wasn’t too abnormal and a regimen of time and ibuprofen took care of the fluid.

I am sure Mauricio’s family was happy to see him and his mother. They were in the States for about seven weeks. But I wonder if it was at all hard for Ancelie to board that plane in St. Louis. Life in Haiti is so hard, even without tropical storms like Noele. For most people there, it’s a fight to stay fed and well.

We are happy that Ancelie is returning with a healthier baby, albeit one who will need surgery again at some unknowable point in the future. Will he be able to return to America when he needs to? Will we be able to find a hospital willing to care for him? Right now, these are also unknowable. But for today, we will rejoice in Mauricio’s healthier heart and hope that it beats strongly for many, many years

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Mauricio Fantastico!

Little Mauricio had his surgery and is recovering well. He is a cute and tough, little baby who was able to come off the ventilator almost as soon as surgery was completed. This despite the fact that the echocardiogram done in St. Louis showed that Mauricio had an additional problem with his heart: he was missing the pulmonary valve in his heart.

The lack of this valve complicated the situation as it means that Mauricio will likely need follow up surgery. After many discussions (more on these discussions in the next post), the surgeon decided to construct a makeshift pulmonary valve. This type of valve isn’t as effective as an artificial valve or a valve from a cadaver or a pig, but it has the advantage of growing with Mauricio’s heart, unlike the other valves mentioned. So, Mauricio may not need his follow up surgery as quickly as he would.

Mauricio currently has some fluid around his heart, but that is not particularly abnormal, and he is taking ibuprofen to get rid of it. He has another doctor’s appointment on November 6. He may be cleared to return to Haiti after this appointment.

We have been privileged to host Mauricio and his mother for a day in Peoria. They are delightful and appreciative guests. Both my mom and John’s mom commented on how alert and bright Mauricio seems. Though he will need to be followed as closely as possible in Haiti, he is already a healthier baby (his pulse is not 140 anymore and he is putting on weight) and we are happy that he is going to have a chance at life.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Mauricio Arrives

The SOS for Mauricio came in a call from Boston this past spring. “I have a friend who has a baby in Haiti with a sick heart. Can you help?” At the time, having just returned from a 7-month stay in Haiti and with a boatload of other sick kids on the list, we didn’t offer Louis, the Boston caller, much hope. John told him to tell the mom to see Dr. Pilie, a cardiologist in Port-au-Prince. John also told Louis that we didn’t have any hospitals.

Louis persisted with his calls, one of which came in June when John was in Haiti to work and escort a 24-year-old Haitian woman, Marie, to Illinois for surgery to replace two trashed out—heart valves. I told Louis if the baby and his mother could get to John in Haiti, John would examine the baby.

The next day, Mauricio and his mother arrived where John was staying. The six-month-old baby was feisty and smiling. His echocardiogram, which the mother had gotten from Dr. Pilie, indicated the baby had Tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart defect where five things are wrong with the heart.

John brought the echo home with him and sent it to a Midwestern medical center. After a few months, they accepted Mauricio!

This past Saturday, John escorted Mauricio and his mother to the United States. Our son Luke and I picked up John and the Haitian visitors at the airport and took Mauricio and his mother to their host family. They had an appointment with the pediatric cardiac surgeon and the medical center today.

Stay tuned for further details.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Pesky Details

When you are trying to do some good in the developing world, you must negotiate a huge bureaucratic gulf.

We are in the process of bringing a baby to St. Louis for heart surgery. We have to e-mail letters from the host family, the hospital, and the doctor in Haiti who examined the child—that would be John—to the U.S. consulate. They require extensive documentation to issue the visa.

The U.S. government’s two main concerns in issuing non-immigrant visas to Haitians for medical reasons are: 1) that no public monies go to pay for care, and 2) that the person will return to Haiti.

Fortunately, we now have someone in Port-au-Prince who can help us with this process, a woman I’ll call G.

In order to obtain a precious U.S. visa, G ensures the patient has a current passport. She then helps the parent fill out the on line visa application for the child. G calls the consulate and makes an appointment with an official. On the day of the appointment, she goes to the appointment with the parent and the child, bringing the application, all of the letters the consulate requires, and $100 to pay the fee.

The consulate official conducts the interview and then decides whether to grant the visa. If they decide in favor of granting the visa, it will be ready the next day. Physically, a visa is a large computer-printed stamp in the patient’s passport and includes the patient’s picture.

The U.S. consulate doesn’t make it exactly easy to get a visa, but they have almost always granted them for our patients. Sometimes if the parent is applying for one so that she can accompany the child, they aren’t as agreeable. When children are traveling to the United States without a parent, a bunch of papers have to be completed for the Haitian social service agency called IBESR or Bien et Sociale. This is a big hassle and I’m not even sure of the process.

After the visa is obtained and all the other paperwork has been completed, we buy a ticket for the patient to come to the great, white north for their life-saving surgery.

That’s the good part.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Catch Up

I started this blog in December 1995. My husband John and I were spending a lot of time in Haiti. John does incredible things there, and I wanted to record our experiences. Until our last trip to Haiti, I accompanied John to the clinics and hospitals where he worked and helped where I could.

Then we fell in love with a little boy.

We met him in March 2004, started the adoption process in June 2004, took him out of the orphanage in July 2006 and spent the next seven months in Haiti, until we were able to return home with our son, Luke Innocent Carroll, on February 19, 2007.

During this seven month period, I spent all of my time caring for Luke and ventured out only rarely. It was a dangerous time in Haiti’s history. I did blog during this period, mainly about the things that John would come home and tell me.

I haven’t written a post since we’ve returned from Haiti. Originally, I was going to be a purist and only write posts when I could justify the name of the blog: Live from Haiti. But I’ve decided to change that. For those of you who occasionally check this blog, I will be posting at least once a week even when we are stateside. There is enough going on Haiti-wise, even when we are home to justify ongoing posting. For example, over the past several months:

-a young woman, Marie, had successful heart surgery at Provena St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet IL.

-John and our niece Jennifer traveled to Haiti to escort Marie back to the
States. John examined other patients and they shot video of Marie in her home
which was used by the ABC affiliate in Chicagoland for a story that they did
about Marie’s surgery.

-we had three Haitian children accepted for heart surgery and are in the process
of making arrangements to bring them to the United States.

-we now have a beautiful, young Haitian permanently living with us. I didn’t post
much about our adoption process in order to preserve some privacy for our son.
But I will share information about Luke that I think is relevant.

-Father Gerry Jean-Juste, the priest that John was instrumental in freeing from
prison, returned to Haiti this past week, in much better health and to an adoring

In short, there is more than enough for me to blog about even when I’m in Peoria instead of Port-au-Prince.

I thank those of you who read this blog. Writers like when people read their stuff. I hope that this blog motivates you to learn more about Haiti, maintain your involvement with the wonderful people who live there, or get involved if you are not already.

Let’s take the journey together.
Pictured about are: my husband John, my son Luke, Siste Lila, a Daughters of Charity sister who runs a clinic where John works and Pierre, who also works at the clinic. This picture was taken in February 19, 2007, the day we returned to the United States after our seven month stay in Haiti.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

War in the Slum

John began working in Cité Soleil, a slum of 300,000 people, a few months ago. He sees children at a clinic run by the Daughters of Charity, an international order of Catholic sisters, founded by St. Vincent de Paul. He also works at a mobile clinic run by a Passionist priest, Father Rick, that circulates throughout the slums—Soleil, Wharf Jeremie, LaSaline.

The first time John went with the mobile clinic to Cité Soleil, they drove to the neighborhood called Boston. They parked the medical truck in a neat concrete plaza surrounded by walls with colorful murals of the Virgin Mary and Che Guevara. A couple of guys were batting around a ball as other people stood around the periphery.

Father Rick got out of the vehicle to talk with the leader of this territory, a man who goes by Evans. Evans was an overweight man who looked much older than a person in his twenties, which he is. He was wearing a jersey with a number on it. His long white teeth made up the gist of the crazy and diabolical smile of one who knows that he is lord and ruler of all he sees through force and fear.

Evans shook Father’s hand and said of the other people waiting in the truck, “I have not met everyone.” An American woman got out and was introduced to Evans. John asked a burly, streetwise Haitian man, who is one of Father’s assistants, “Aren’t you going to get out?” The man gave a quick shake of his head; no he was not. Father sat and talked with Evans for about 40 minutes. Father and other people who want to work in Soleil must pay homage to chiefs like Evans if they want to work safely in the slums.

Friday, February 9, at 3 am, the UN launched a massive assault on Cité Soleil that lasted six hours. Their purposes were twofold: they wanted to occupy territory held by the gangs and they wanted to capture a gang leader, who is the gang leader of all gang leaders: Evans. Seven hundred UN soldiers—blue helmets, they are called—largely from Brazil rolled through the slum in 40 tanks. They were largely successful in their first mission. The UN now occupies the plaza described above, known as Jamaica Base. They also captured a water tower, where gang snipers used to fire away and also a house used to hold kidnapping victims. According to UN reports, one gang member was killed. However, Evans is still at large.

Evans is reported to be a vicious gangster. He and his gangs extort money from people and use people as human shields. He is also reported to be superstitious of cats. He ordered all of the cats in the area rounded up and killed. When one woman wouldn’t turn over her cat, he shot her. While John didn’t know all of these details about Evans when he saw him a few months ago, he definitely got the impression that he was a bad guy. “He had the eyes of a killer,” John said.

No one is really sure where the gangs get their firepower. Some gang members have said they want to lay down their weapons but they are afraid of the UN. “They call us gangsters, but everyone in this world is a gangster. When you’re hungry, you’re mad,” said a gang member to an AP reporter.

Since late December, the UN has conducted increasingly aggressive forays into Cité Soleil. Several months ago, President Preval called for all gang members to turn in their weapons. “Give us peace, or you will rest in peace,” was the refrain of his administration. A few token weapons were turned in. But in December, there was a surge in kidnappings, including kidnappings of children. So Preval gave the UN permission to take off the handcuffs. There were raids into Soleil in December and January. In the December 22 attack, the UN reported that six people were killed. However, Soleil residents said that 10 people were killed, and none of them were gang members.

Therein lies the rub. Almost all people of good will would like the gang members to be arrested or to at least lay down their arms. And I am not opposed in principle to the UN being in charge of this effort. But the UN’s tactics have made the cure worse than the disease. I believe they have killed an untold number of innocent people—collateral damage, this is called: can we please have a consensus to ban this Orwellian term?—with their indiscriminate shooting. These deaths have received very little coverage—unlike when a UN soldier is killed or if an American is kidnapped—and the UN have not been sanctioned at all. It makes it seem as if these lives don’t matter at all. “The people didn’t ask to be born here. We didn’t ask to live like this,” said a woman principal to a NT Times reporter.

If you talk with residents of Cité Soleil, they will tell you they fear the UN more than the gangs. Part of it may be the devil you don’t know being scarier than the devil you grew up with. Or part of it could be the UN’s superior firepower which has made itself felt. It is frightening even for us to see the white UN tanks roll through the streets with their automatic weapons manned, pointed, and at-the-ready. In Cite Soleil, it seems as if the majority of the buildings are riddled with bullet marks from these weapons. Another Catholic priest we know, Father Tom, who runs schools and feeding programs in Cité Soleil, says that the black boards in one of his school are covered with bullet holes. I’ve recounted some of the other misdeeds of the UN in other posts.

The general displeasure by many of Haiti’s poorest citizens with the UN’s presence was on display a few days ago. On February 7, two days before the UN’s incursion into Soleil and the 16th anniversary of Aristide’s first inauguration as president of Haiti, thousands of people marched in front of the UN headquarters on John Brown Avenue. They were calling for the departure of the UN, justice for the victims in Cité Soleil, the release of political prisoners, and the return of those forced into exile, especially Aristide. And then two days later, the UN attack occurs. It’s kind of a schizophrenic world here in Haiti.

Now the UN has a least some of what they want: more control of neighborhoods in Cite Soleil as well as control of the major entrances into the huge seaside slum. They have driven Evans and other gang leaders into at least temporary hiding. But here are the unintended consequences:

The Daughters of Charity who run the clinic and other programs left Cité Soleil on Saturday morning. They walked out, carrying suitcases, as the UN was letting very few vehicles into the slum. With the Sisters gone for an unknown length of time, 1,200 children won’t receive a hot, substantial meal each day, 600 children won’t be in school, and 45 babies won’t receive two meals a day through their malnutrition program. The clinic isn’t open to treat sick children either. I am sure that most similar programs in Cité Soleil are not currently operating.

We talked to the director of an orphanage. On Saturday, several moms from Cité Soleil showed up at her place begging her to take their babies and place them for adoption. They told her they have no way to feed their children. Sadly, her orphanage is full and she couldn’t accept the children. What will become of them and their mothers?

The world is a mean place in big and small ways for so many people I’ll close with a vignette reported by the Washington Post. After the UN raid, A 45-year-old man, Miken, had spent much of the day waiting to be able to return to his home in Cité Soleil. He wants the gangs gone but he wants back to his home too. A few days ago, he was walking down the street, his pocket holding $3, a good day’s wage for a hard day’s work selling scrap metal. “A gang member he knew greeted him by leveling a revolver at his head. The man with the gun didn’t have to say a word. Miken handed over the money and walked away.”

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Pearl of the Antilles?

Haiti was once known by the above title, though it may be difficult to believe today. The island, which was once lush and forested is now largely barren. However, the conditions that created such a fertile country still exist, as evidence by the these pictures, which were taken only a few weeks apart. If given the chance, stuff likes to grow in Haiti.

I’ve spent a few posts describing Haiti’s troubled history and the problems it faces. I would like to spend one entry listing the strengths of the country.

-The weather in Haiti is fabulous. FAB-U-LOUS. We have been here for seven months now. Locals had told us that December, January, and February are beautiful months in Haiti and we are finding out how right they are, especially given the temps in Illinois. The days are sunny and warm, but not oppressively so; we don’t run the air conditioning at night. There is little or light rain. Nice breezes from the Caribbean help cool the island, even during the hotter summer months.

-The people in Haiti are resilient. The living conditions for poor people here are wretched, for reasons detailed in the previous post. Though the infant and maternal mortality rates and the average lifespan of Haitians are all atrocious, they are not as bad as the might be. Many of the African countries have much worse mortality rates, and I find it hard to believe that conditions, bad as they are there, are as poor as in Haiti. Haitians are descended from some very tough people: the slaves who defeated Napoleon’s army.

-The people in Haiti are hospitable. We have been extended such kindnesses from Haitians who are very poor. We have visited people in their shanty homes who have had cold Cokes waiting for us. They will also offer you the only chair in their house.

-The people in Haiti are largely law abiding. You read, and I’ve discussed the gang-related crime in Haiti. However, gang members comprise a very small part of the population. By and large, the people in Haiti are peace-loving. We have traveled around Port-au-Prince on public transportation—i.e. tap taps—extensively and never felt threatened or in danger. I believe the United States to be a much more violent country than Haiti, and I think the crime statistics would bear this out.

-The people in Haiti are hard working. As George Orwell said in Down and Out in Paris in London, the unpoor don’t realize how much work it is to be poor. From walking miles for water to washing clothes by hand to fixing cars wherever they break down, Haitians are usually working.

-The people in Haiti want democracy. Despite the failure of past governments and the hardships of getting to the polls and then waiting there often for hours, the Haitian people turn out in huge numbers for the presidential elections. They want to have a voice in choosing their officials.

-The people in Haiti are good cooks. This is rather a painful paradox, given the scarcity of food in many Haitian homes. But we have had delicious meals here prepared by people from all different income levels.

-There is a ton of potential in Haiti, if it can only be channeled. This is a country of 8 million people, many of whom would love the opportunity of a job. People here want a better life and are willing to work for it.

As you can see, most of the strengths of Haiti are bound up in its people.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Where We Are Now

Gerard LaTortue of Boca Raton, Florida, was installed as the interim prime minister of Haiti by the United States and other international powers after the coup d’etat that forced Aristide out of office. LaTortue served until Spring 2006, when the current president, Rene Preval, took office. LaTortue’s administration was noted for its corruption and inaction, as the country waited for elections, which were repeatedly postponed, to be held.

During our last few trips to Haiti my husband would often remark at the end of his work shift, “This was Haiti’s worst day,” meaning things have never been so bad in Haiti. Here are some of the reasons why:

-Gangs control many of the slums. They kidnap, steal, kill, and terrorize people, throughout Haiti. We know people they have kidnapped and a family whose home
was burned to the ground.

-The UN forces—over 7,000 strong—are here to help with security. However, they shoot indiscriminately in the slums and have killed untold numbers of innocent people, including children. John has interviewed many of these victims at St. Catherine Laboure hospital in Cite Soleil.

-The judicial system is corrupt and inefficient. There seem to be no regular laws or rules that are enforced regarding charges, trials, and imprisonment. Violent prisoners are released while people like Father Gerry Jean-Juste are held for months on trumped up charges.

-The lack of security has kept away people who want to help Haiti.

-The infrastructure is gutted. Roads are terrible, clean water is not widely available, and electricity is only accessible a few hours a day.

-Many of the poor are malnourished or even starving to death.

-Haiti was cited as the most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International. This index defines corruption as public officials who abuse their positions for private gain.

-Schooling is not available to all children and many of the schools are inferior.

-Medical care is woefully scarce and inadequate. Many preventable and/or treatable diseases like tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and malaria take the lives of Haitians, especially children.

-An environmental crisis is ravaging the country as the deforested mountains allow rains to carry away topsoil and turn into deadly floods.

-Unemployment is rampant, somewhere around 80%.

-Many of the educated, skilled people who are critical to developing Haiti leave for the United States, Canada, and Europe. Our adoption attorney told us that none of her five children are living in Haiti.

All of these problems have their roots in the historical and current events I have described in previous posts. I think we have to take into special account the role of the U.S. in Haiti’s history, particularly its most recent history. I believe the United States has a great deal of control as to some things in Haiti. The U.S. told Aristide he must leave and flew him to Africa. A resident of the U.S. became Haiti’s interim prime minister. The United States held up promised aid money to Haiti because we didn’t like the way their 2000 elections were administrated.

Haitians are very aware of the U.S. power over their country and they pay close attention to U.S. politics. We were in Haiti during the 2004 U.S. presidential elections and people were listening to their radios/ They knew the states where the vote was in question. I think that the U.S. president often has more affect on people from other countries than he does on Americans. In Haiti’s case, one U.S. president restored Aristide to office and another led him out.

Now, it’s not just a question of what other countries can do for Haiti. It’s also a question of what Haiti can do for itself. And like a person who has been beaten too long, Haiti has developed its own dysfunction, which contributes to its problems.

When all is said and done, the question remains: what can be done now to improve Haiti?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Aristide Years: Haitian History Part III

Jean Bertrand Aristide, formerly a Catholic priest, was Haiti’s first democratically elected leader. Widely popular among the poor, whom he served as a parish priest, Aristide won the presidential election in 1991 with 67% of the vote. But Aristide served only 8 months of his term before he was overthrown in a military coup led by Raoul Cedras. Aristide spent part of his exile in the U.S. In 1994 with the help of U.S troops, Aristide was restored to power. However, the embargo against Haiti during his enforced absence along with terror of the Cedras regime crippled Haiti’s economy. Aristide disbanded the national army, which was guilty of severe human rights violations. He finished out his aborted term in 1996. Rene Preval, Haiti’s current president, followed Aristide, serving from 1996-2000.

In 2000, Aristide ran for president again and won, this time with almost 92% of the vote. But again, Aristide was not able to serve out his full term. A rebellion led by many former army officials took control of the northern part of the country in 2004. As they were advancing to Port-au-Prince, Aristide was escorted by U.S. military to a plane and flown to the Central African Republic. Aristide asserts that he was kidnapped by the U.S. government.

Aristide is a controversial figure among many people. Some have tried to link him to drug dealings and opposition killings. Others were unhappy with him because he did not embrace American-style development. But even those who view him negatively would grudgingly admit that he was overwhelmingly elected president of the country twice. Aristide’s elections, ousters, and legacy may embody better than anything the clash in Haiti between the poor who are the majority and the rich who hold the power. It is an old story.

And things have not gotten better in the three years that Aristide’s been gone.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Welcome to Our World

I have always wanted to see a baby born. In one of the most common, yet profound miracles, one person becomes two. I got my chance this past weekend at a maternity hospital not far from where we are staying. In March 2006, the three-story, 60-bed hospital came under the administration of an international organization. Each month the number of babies delivered there has increased. Last month 1,300 babies made their way into the world at this hospital.

Despite its infant and child mortality rates, Haiti is a land of young people. And pregnant women. This hospital is trying to specialize in high risk pregnancies. Pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure and swelling in the legs, which can lead to eclampsia—seizures—is not uncommon in Haiti. Ideally, the hospital would care for women with this and other risk factors for pregnancy, including being under 16 or over 40. But this is Haiti, and nothing is ideal. If women show up in labor, they are not turned away. This makes for a very busy hospital.

We snaked our way through the line of people waiting outside the hospital—we later learned that they have to limit the number of visitors, otherwise the already crowded building would be impassable. We asked for “Mary” an American nurse John had met, who is volunteering at the hospital for the better part of a year. Her name, along with John’s scrubs and our white skin, got us instant admittance. “Today, it’s not too busy,” said Mary, a clarification that our untrained eyes needed as there were women and babies all over the place.

On the first floor, was a room full of women with tiny swaddled babies, waiting to be discharged. In another room, nurses took vital signs of women in various stages of pregnancy. Across the hall behind a large canvassed-draped opening we could hear the cries and moans of women in the early and middle stages of labor. John examined the drugs on the shelves of the small but well-stocked, for Haiti, pharmacy. Hydralazine, a blood pressure medicine safe for pregnant women and toxemia drugs, like magnesium sulfate, were neatly stacked in the room that was the size of a large pantry.

When women have normal deliveries, they and their babies stay in the hospital for a whopping four hours. If a c-section is required, they remain for 48 hours. Mary points to a stack of used cardboard boxes against a wall. “When a baby dies, that is what we put them in for their trip to the morgue.” Prior to this system, the mothers were responsible for their babies’ bodies, which led to little bodies being found in the sheets and under the beds. Infant and maternal mortality rates in Haiti are the highest in the hemisphere 680 women out of 100,000 die giving birth and 84 children of 1,000 don’t make it to their first birthday. This compares very poorly with U.S. ratios of 17 and 6, respectively.

As we were processing this information, a woman in a gown came from behind the canvas doorway, escorted by the one of the hospital workers. They walked up the stairs to the second floor. “She’s going to deliver soon,” said Mary as we followed her.

The second floor is where most of the obvious action takes place: babies being birthed. There is a small delivery room a larger room where women who are toxemic are monitored, and an operating room for cesareans and emergencies.

We walked into the delivery room, which measured about 10 feet by 8 feet. There were three young women on the three beds in the room with two young midwives attending them. “Yesterday we were so busy that a baby was born on the floor where you are standing,” said Mary.

Today, the woman in the middle bed was farthest along; you could see her baby’s head with its thick black hair at the opening of the woman’s vagina. Already the experience was upping my heart rate in sympathy with the woman and the baby. I felt like Prissy in Gone With The Wind, who says, “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ babies.” But despite my apprehension, I was where I wanted to be. A doctor came in with a fetal monitor to check the baby’s heart rate. This soon-to-be mom along with the woman on her right were having their first babies. None of the women had family member with them.

Mary went to the head of the woman who was close to delivering and began stroking her forehead. She would yell and moan as the contractions intensified. The women at this hospital receive no pain medicine or epidurals while they are in labor; it’s just them and their pain. Sometimes the midwife would say, “Ferme la bouche!”—Close your mouth—which seemed rather harsh to me. Later John said that perhaps the midwife wanted the mom to save that energy for pushing.

As the baby’s head continued to widen the vaginal opening with each contraction, the midwife stood over watching. At last, she began to tell the woman to push. There was no keeping the mouth shut now, and the woman cried out as she pushed. With a couple of pushes, the head was out. With another couple of pushes and some pulling and turning by the midwife, the baby’s torso was out. The umbilical cord, which looks like long, thick, gray tubing, was wrapped around the baby’s neck, but apparently not tight enough to be a problem. One more push and the baby was out along with a lot of fluid and some blood. A metal bowel had been positioned underneath the woman to catch most of these fluids.

The midwife immediately put the baby on the mom’s torso. The mom seemed so relieved that the baby was out and that most of the pain was over that she wasn’t too interested in the baby. The nice-sized baby was covered in the damp, white chalky substance, vernix caseosa, which protects the baby’s skin from the amniotic fluid. With her dark skin underneath it, the substance gave the baby a rather ghostly appearance. But after the midwife gave her a little shake, she wasn’t quiet like a ghost. She let out a very loud cry, which sounded so good. The midwife began tying off the umbilical cord near where it attached to the baby. The other end of the cord was attached to the placenta, which was still in the uterus. It would not come out until later.

The second woman’s birth was similar to the first, except that her baby’s head was bigger. The midwife made a small episiotomy so the woman wouldn’t tear. This baby was also a girl with a healthy cry.

Both times this process made me teary. There is something so primal yet so otherwordly about child birth. To see women go through such an agonizingly painful and body distorting experience gives me new respect for the strength of women’s bodies. And then to have this new, little, beautiful creature result from all the pain and blood and effort. Only God could be behind this. I could have watched babies being born all day.

Of course this is Haiti and not all the births go as swimmingly as the ones I witnessed. A young German obstetrician, who has been at the hospital seven weeks, says she has seen in Haiti fetal abnormalities that she could hardly imagine. As the hospital somewhat specializes in high risk births and has the stack of cardboard boxes attests, the medical staff see a lot of tragedy too. When I commented to John how healthy these two babies looked he said, “They are as healthy as they are going to be right now.” It’s a depressing thought.

And yet. What’s that quote: a new baby is a sign that God wants the world to go on. We have an obligation to give these babies a better world and a chance at a decent life. Seeing these babies born makes me realize that all the more.

Friday, January 26, 2007

My Husband's Day at the Office

John went to work today and had his camera stolen. He was outside photographing some burning tires in Cité Soleil when a group of felonious-looking young men headed from across the street toward John. “Give me your camera,” one of them shouted. No, replied my husband, who doesn’t like it when he can’t find one of his pens. The thug—chimiere or bandits, they are called in Haiti—grabbed for the camera, but John held tight and the bad guy’s hand slipped off John’s. As the gang continued to demand the camera, John calculated his odds: he was standing near a raging fire by an angry group that was paranoid due to the U.N tanks that were at that moment rolling through the slum.

He gave up the camera.

Hoping against hope that he could some how retrieve the camera, but first wanting to escape the impending doom that was heralded by the rumbling tanks causing the streets to empty, with school children running for home, he headed to the state-run hospital, St. Catherine Laboure, located next to the clinic where he had spent the morning seeing pediatric patients. As he walked toward the hospital, he looked down an alley he was crossing. A gang of men, some carrying machine guns, was sprinting down the alley. John froze, thinking they could easily shoot him or kidnap him, thankful that he didn’t have his camera just then. But they continued on their frantic way, leaving him alone. On a field next to the hospital, John saw UN tanks traversing the wide open space. In the war between the gangs and the UN, the gang members were trying to get to a safe place.

At the hospital John waited for the tanks to pass and then returned to the clinic. Jean Claude, the man who gives John a ride to and from Soleil, and who grew up in Soleil, and one of the clinic guards whispered to John that the gang that controlled his camera was around the corner.

John and Jean Claude walked to where the gang of about 20 was standing. The obvious leader held a hunting rifle with a scope, pointed to the ground. John made a plea for his camera. The gang leader, who John said had the hard eyes of a killer, repeated that the camera had been destroyed. “Why do you have a camera anyway? Are you a journalist?” This line of inquiry was borne of the gang members’ fear that someone would take their pictures and give them to the UN. John persisted, believing that they would not destroy something that was could be so valuable to them. “I’m a doctor. I’ve been coming to Soleil for 25 years. There are medical pictures on the camera. I know people suffer terribly here.”

The gang leader was unmoved and repeated that the camera was broken. In the mean time, someone from behind was tugging on John’s pant leg, asking him if he had any money. In Creole, the gang members were discussing the fact that John would bring a good ransom price if he were kidnapped. Seeing that the discussion about his camera was going nowhere, John put his hand on the gang leader’s shoulder and told him, “You’re the boss.” John and Jean Claude turned around and walked down the street back toward the clinic.

At the clinic, the sisters listened to John’s story and assured him that he would get his camera back. A little while later, two gang members showed up to negotiate a price for the camera. They started out asking $1,000 but eventually settled on $100. John came into the room with the $100 and the gangsters produced the camera. They gave it to John and said, “Get rid of the f***** pictures.” John put on his glasses and tried to figure out how to erase the pictures. As he was doing this, the bandit yelled, impatient, “Give me the film! Give me the film!” As he was saying this, the camera began erasing the pictures and John showed it to him. At this, the gangster became friendly and offered John his hand. As the two gang guys left, John stopped the erasure of the pictures, preserving most that he had taken that day, none which were of any gang members. Shortly after this, John and Jean Claude drove out of Soleil and he returned to our lodging about 2:30 pm.

My reactions to all this? Frustration that John didn’t let the camera go. We love the camera—we’ve probably taken more than 2,000 pictures this trip alone—and it was a wedding gift from John’s brother and sister-in-law and family. But I love John more, and I think he ran an unacceptable risk to get the camera. These gang guys are absolute killers. If a person takes these kinds of risks long enough, it often catches up with him. Amazement and gratitude that John did get the camera back, both it and him unscathed, albeit $100 poorer. John seems to have some kind of karma protecting him, built up by years of coming to Haiti and dedicating so much of his time and talent to caring for very poor people. And finally acceptance that I’m never going to be able to convince John to do what I think is prudent. But, then again, I don’t always know best.

He reports for work again tomorrow in Cité Soleil.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Maxime's Obituary

Maxime's obituary was in the Peoria Journal Star on January 24, 2007. We are grateful to report that today, the U.S. consulate in Port-au-Prince granted Maxime's brother Jean Marcel a visa to travel to the United States for the funeral. Jean Marcel leaves tomorrow for his journey to say good bye to his brother.

EAST PEORIA - Maxime Petion, 21, of St. Georges, Haiti, who was hosted by an East Peoria family, died on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2007, in Cleveland, Ohio.

He had traveled from Haiti to Cleveland Clinic for medical treatment through arrangements made by Haitian Hearts, Dr. John Carroll, Senator Mike DeWine and Cleveland Clinic. Maxime was born on May 6, 1985, to Anne Marie D'Haiti. She survives, along with three brothers, Jean-Marcel, Jean-Paul and Frandy, and one sister, Anilia, all of Haiti. He is also survived by his host family, John and Jeanette Johnson and their sons, Adam, Andy and Evan of East Peoria.
The Johnson's hosted Maxime in 2002, when he had heart surgery at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center. Becky Noss, Maxime's teacher and friend, also survives. Also surviving is Maxime's Haitian pastor and special family friend, Reverend Todo Julien. Maxime was also survived by Mary Hurley, who hosted him while he was in Cleveland.

Though Maxime lived a very poor life in Haiti, he exuded joy and gratitude through his beautiful smile. He was a very devout Christian and read his Bible so much that he wore out its binding. Maxime touched the lives of many people in central Illinois and also during his brief time in Cleveland. One of his caretakers at Cleveland Clinic wrote the following poem in tribute to Maxime.

Thank you, Maxime, for lessons taught-

how to pause and enjoy the minutes,

to be grateful, to breathe, and to sleep,

and to laugh with beloved family and friends.

As Jesus did, and Jackson and so many others,

you have again taught us by example,

a quiet persistent message,

despite being wracked by pain and exhaustion,

despite smashing into nightmares

of inequity, injustice, man's arrogance and fear.




My faith and hope have been, once again,

healed by your life example, your love of life.

Now is the moment, not tomorrow or next year.

Thank you for the reminder Maxime.

I will try, again, to make NOW count.

Services will be held on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2007, at 10 a.m. at Mason Funeral Home, Germantown Hills Chapel, with visitation an hour before. Burial will follow at Sand Ridge Cemetery. Rev. Dr. Donald Whitman will officiate.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Maxime's Haitian family members in care of John Johnson.

Online condolences at
Maxime and his big brother Jean Marcel, are pictured in front of the national palace a few days before Maxime left for the United States.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Brothers Karamazov

Here’s some amazing trivia about The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky: it’s reputed to be Laura Bush’s favorite book. I don’t find it incredible the TBK would be the top book choice for someone. It’s a highly readable Russian epic that considers the spiritual questions and struggles that confront us no matter when and where we live. But I do find it amazing that that someone would be married to George W. Bush or as Garrison Keillor calls him the Current Occupant. But so she is, and we have yet another enigma to puzzle over regarding the First Couple.

I was first assigned to read TBK in graduate school. Sadly for me, I was only able to read about two thirds of it before the next wave of reading assignments hit. This time, I read a little more than 20 pages a day—a nice, thoughtful pace for a great book—and finished the 735 page book in about a month. TBK is about the relationships of three—possibly four—brothers with each other and their neglectful, sly, buffoonish father. Without giving away the plot, here are some comments about the book.

Dostoevsky is a master at creating characters and he has an appreciation of the complicated nature of human beings. Each of the brothers—the crass and impulsive Dmitri, the reserved, intellectual Ivan, and the saintly, kind Alyosha—seems complex and real. Their characters, along with Fyodor’s, their father, drive the plot, including the crime that is committed and its aftermath. I think Alyosha, who is non-judgmental and tries to see the best in everyone, is my favorite heroic character. Faith and doubt and what they mean for the world play out in the beliefs and actions of these main characters.

The most famous chapter of the book is “The Grand Inquistor.” Ivan describes his poem about what happens when Jesus comes down to earth during the Inquisition to his faith-filled brother Alyosha, who wants to become a monk. I find the preceding chapter, “Rebellion” more disquieting. Ivan graphically describes the suffering of children and asks, in effect, how can this be? A lack of a satisfying answer has convinced Ivan that there can be no God. By the way, in Dostoevsky’s notes he writes that all the horrifying examples that Ivan described actually occurred.

This chapter, of course, reminds me of Haiti, where we see so many suffering children and we constantly ask ourselves why we weren’t born here, why we’ve escaped this misery. One of the brands of misery is named TB and a child in TBK dies of the wasting disease as so many people did prior to the middle of the 20th century. Here is a line from the speech that Alyosha makes at the boy’s grave site.

“Ah, children, ah, dear friends, don’t be afraid of life! How good life is when one does something good and just!”

Haitian History Part II

The United States’ treatment of Haiti did not improve markedly in the 20th century. From 1915 to 1934, U.S. forces occupied Haiti. Why? Many of a nation’s seemingly inexplicable decisions can be deciphered by one formula: follow the money. Woodrow Wilson ordered the forces to Haiti because he was concerned about how much economic control that Germany and other countries had in Haiti. Germany controlled 80 percent of foreign trade. Perhaps the U.S. was worried about how this foreign influence would affect its interests: a U.S. owned bank, National City Bank (now Citbank) controlled Haiti’s national bank and railroad.

The U.S. did some good stuff while we were in Haiti. Schools, roads, and hospitals were built. But the U.S. imposed presidents, a constitution, and legislation, including a forced labor provision, on Haiti. A rebellion against the occupation was put down by the American military with the resulting death of 13 American soldiers and 3,071 Haitians. The occupation also resulted in a centralization of government and industry from the countryside to Port-au-Prince, destabilizing the socio-economic structure of the country and causing a huge influx of people into the city.

After the U.S. left Haiti, the country went through a series of presidents until Francois Duvalier (Papa Doc) became president in 1957. He appointed himself as President for Life in 1964 and terrorized the citizenry with his personal militia, the notorious Tonton Macoutes. Under Duvalier, Haiti became one of the most repressive regimes in the hemisphere. One estimate is that 30,000 people were killed by Duvalier. The United States was obsessed with Cuba and anti-communism, so we weren’t substantially critical of Papa Doc’s government.

Thank you for your patience as we take this brief tour through Haitian history. We’re almost finished and then we will get to the what-can-we-do-now part of this series.

I encourage everyone, including me, to learn more about Haitian history. There are dozens of books on the subject. Two I would suggest are:

Written in Blood: The Story of the Haitian People 1492-1995 by Michael Heinl
and others. This is the most comprehensive English language account of Haiti’s

The Uses of Haiti by Paul Farmer. Dr. Farmer is a physician who spends much of
his time in Haiti and has introduced ground breaking programs to treat HIV, TB,
and other diseases in the developing world.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Maxime Petion, May 6, 1985 - January 9, 2007

Maxime died this morning at Cleveland Clinic. He was 21 years old.

We had hoped Maxime would get a new chance at a healthy life, but it was not to be. What he did get was a couple of weeks in a top notch medical center, surrounded by his host family, caring medical staff, and many other people who came to love him during his short stay in the United States.

There was something so immediately likable about Maxime. He had an easy way about him with a shy, friendly smile. A few months ago, Maxime’s brother brought him to Port-au-Prince from their hometown in St. George, a bumpy, five-hour, truck ride away. John examined Maxime. He could tell from his exam and the follow up echocardiogram confirmed that Maxime needed a new heart valve. Maxime ended up spending the night with us, as he had done enough traveling for one day.

Our little boy was completed captivated by Maxime. They watched one of the World Series games together. That night neither Maxime nor I got much sleep. His leaky heart made it difficult for him to sleep and our leaky roof, which was dripping onto my bed, made it difficult for me to sleep. As I made several trips to the bathroom to get towels and other materials to staunch the leak, wearing my headlight on my forehead, I thought how goofy this must look to Maxime and was glad at least that I was not waking him up. Then again, Haitians are used to leaky roofs.

But nobody ever gets used to a leaky heart. Maxime needed help, and he needed it quickly. John along with Jeanette Johnson, Maxime’s host mother from his trip to the U.S. five years ago, spent the next several weeks trying to find a hospital for Maxime. John does not give up on his patients. His perseverance is amazing and a true testament to his dedication to his patients. It is a dedication born of caring and love for them.

John contacted the office of U.S. Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio. Senator—now former Senator—DeWine has a special affection and interest in Haiti, and we had made his acquaintance last year. Through the influence and advocacy of Senator DeWine and his staff, Maxime was accepted for care at Cleveland Clinic, the number one heart hospital in the country. It is a tribute to Senator DeWine and his staff that they continued to work diligently on behalf of Maxime after the Senator lost the election in November.

With Cleveland Clinic and Haitians Hearts’ sponsorship of Maxime, he was granted a U.S. visa. He flew to the United States on December 21. He stayed with a friend of ours in Cleveland, Mary Hurley, who spends half of the year in Haiti and is fluent in Creole.

Today when Jeanette Johnson and Mary called us, they told us they could not believe how many people Maxime touched in his short time with them in Cleveland. We hear this so many times from people who meet Haitians who come to the United States for medical care and from people who travel to Haiti. They somehow steal a part of your heart. But they give you theirs in return and it seems to make you a better person. These lovely people are why we work in Haiti. Through Haitian Hearts, we will continue to bring children and young adults to the United States for heart surgery. It’s not just good for the Haitians; it’s good for us.

If you want to read more about the last couple of months of Maxime’s life, please go to to read John's account.

With his family’s permission, Maxime will be buried in the Peoria area.

We will never forget Maxime.
In the picture above, Maxime is standing in front of Haiti's National Palace shortly after being granted a U.S. visa.

Monday, January 08, 2007

All Hangings Are Sad

Saddam Hussein’s execution doesn’t have anything to do with Haiti, other than it happened while we were here. And it happened more than a week ago, so it’s old news. After watching news reports of the hanging, John said, “It so sad.”

Who would expect to feel sorrow about the execution of a mass murderer? We don’t really feel pity for Hussein, a pitiless dictator. What’s sad is the deliberate, planned, calculated taking of life. “He was wearing a coat and hat because it was cold," said John. "He was taking care of the fact that he was cold because he’s a human being, and a few minutes later he was going to die.” Doctors, especially, are trained to protect and preserve life.

John’s comment reminded me of a passage from an essay by George Orwell called, “The Hanging.” And then coincidentally, I came upon the passage in notes that I’ve been transcribing. Orwell worked as a police officer in Burma during the reign of the British, and he and other men were escorting a man to the gallows. So I guess this entry is an excuse to quote Orwell, who always has valuable things to say about places where life is hard. Here’s the passage:

“When I saw the prisoner step aside to avoid the puddle, I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness of cutting a life short when it is in full tide. . . his brain still remembered, foresaw, reasoned—reasoned even about puddles. He and we were a party of men walking together, seeing, hearing, feeling, understanding the same world; and in two minutes, with a sudden snap, one of us would be gone—one mind less, one world less.”

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Haiti Started Rough

I’m of the past is prologue school more than the past is a bucket of ashes school. So I have to start this discussion of Haiti with a very brief tour of its history.

Haiti occupies the western third of the island that Columbus named Hispaniola. The natives who lived here prior to the arrival of the Europeans in the 1490's called their home Hayti, which means high country. After these Indians were exterminated by the Spanish, the colony became known as St. Domingue.

The French, who came after the Spanish, turned the colony into their richest overseas possession. But not by themselves. In 1791, the population of the colony was: 39,000 white people, 27,000 people of mixed blood, and 452,000 slaves. You can guess who was doing the majority of the work on the sugar and coffee plantations, which were so productive that Haiti was called “the pearl of the Antilles.”

The Haitian slaves were treated brutally and died early and often. As a result, 20,000 new slaves had to be kidnapped from Africa each year to keep the plantations running. Consequently, two-thirds of the slaves living in the colony in 1791 had been born in Africa. They spoke Creole, a hybrid of French and African languages, which is still spoken today. They had memory of being free.

In 1789 there was a little thing called the French Revolution. The slaves heard about concepts like “the Rights of Man” and took them seriously. In 1791, slave uprisings launched the Haitian Revolution, a fractious, brutal, bloody 13-year-war, which ended when the slaves drove Napoleon’s troops from the island. Haitian independence was declared on January 1, 1804. It was an uneasy alliance between the blacks and the people of mixed blood—there were 64 different shades of color identified—fraught with counter-productive power struggles and violent skirmishes. But the white slave owner ruled no more.

Haiti became the first and only country established by a slave rebellion and the first black republic. Do you think France, whose rule the slaves overthrew, or the United States, Haiti’s democracy-loving, revolution-fomenting, but—alas—slave-holding neighbor to the north west, was thrilled about these firsts? No, they were not. The U.S instigated trade blockades and didn’t recognize Haiti until 1862. France demanded that Haiti pay 90 million in gold francs as restitution to French plantation owners. It took Haiti 100 years to pay this surreally unfair levy.

Haiti, welcome to the league of nations.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Why Are Things So Bad in Haiti and What Can We Do About It?

I received a comment on my last post from Debbie who visits the Missionaries of Charity in the Delmas section of Port-au-Prince a couple of times a year. We are within walking distance from the MC’s and often attend their children’s Mass on Sunday. Debbie reports that they are able to get out less and less with each subsequent trip. For the last couple of years, Port-au-Prince and the entire country have been hit with an epidemic of kidnappings. I’ve written about this phenomenon in other posts. Many of these kidnappings are widely reported, especially if a foreigner is the victim. Whatever their cause, these kidnappings depress the number of visitors who visit Haiti. Who wants to be snatched anywhere much less in a country with at least a partially corrupt police force and judiciary?

The rise in kidnappings begs another question: why do things seem to be getting worse in Haiti? My husband John, who has been coming here for more than 25 years, says in terms the illness, malnutrition, condition of the streets, etc., he has never seen Haiti worse off. “Today is Haiti’s worst day,” he frequently says. Moreover, when we ask Haitians of all economic backgrounds what they think of current conditions, they confirm that it’s never been so bad. An attorney we know told us that none of her five adult children live in Haiti. In the slums, there are fewer people from international organizations to provide relief. hundreds of thousands of people who live in the slums are hungrier, sicker then ever, and now they have to dodge bullets, often unsuccessfully.

So why are things bad? Perhaps more importantly, how can conditions in Haiti improve? Undoubtedly, the answers to the second question have their roots in the first. I am going to spend the next few posts trying to explain why things are so bad and what can be done to improve them. I am a better critic than problem solver, especially when it comes to large-scale questions involving why a country isn’t functioning well. But I’ll give it a crack.

As a side note, this is the longest time that either John or I have been in Haiti, or even away from our hometown of Peoria. We’ve been here almost six months. On this trip, I’ve experienced Haiti mainly vicariously through John, as I’ve spent most of my time in the confines of our hotel caring for our three-year-old son, whose adoption is almost complete. John, as usual, has been working with the sick and poor. The last few weeks he has traveled into Cité Soleil and other slums with a mobile medical clinic. As I proceed with the broader question of how we can improve life for these people, I will post pictures that John has taken during his work. Hopefully, this will “keep it real” as the kids say. The people in these pictures are why the questions so urgently need answers and actions.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Happy 2007!

New Year’s Day is a big deal in Haiti, probably because it’s their independence day too. On January 1, 1804, after a bloody, 14-year war, the Haitians defeated Napoleon’s troops to establish the first ever republic by former slaves. People around here seemed a lot more cheerful this day than on Christmas, wishing us a happy new year. Perhaps people are happy because one of Haiti’s worst years is behind it.

We heard the loud booms of fireworks on the 31st and the first, which always give one cause for pause in a place where gunfire is common. There was also a wedding reception here. One of the staff got married or, as the owner put it, one of our Visa Lodge family members. If only that sentiment of family extended throughout all of Haiti. One of the most common complaints we here from people is, “Haitians don’t care about one another.”

Yesterday, the streets were largely deserted. One of our Haitian friends told us this is because everyone was home, sleeping it off. We were boring on New Year's Eve, and I was the only one in our family who was still up at midnight, although we did have a couple of glasses of vino from a box-o-wine.

We hope you have a wonderful 2007 and that it's the start of good things for the state of Haiti too.
Toussaint L'Overture, the leader of the Haitian Revolution and all around amazing historical figure, is pictured above.