Thursday, November 24, 2011


Above is my rugged husband John, who is spending Thanksgiving in Robillard, a small town in northern Haiti, not far from the country's second largest city, Cap Haitian. He is working at a Cholera Treatment Center and clinic run by the parish of Father Andre Sylvestre. Father Andre put out a plea for help earlier in the month, as the many people with cholera who were coming to his clinic were overwhelming his small staff of one doctor and two nurses. John responded to this call and flew to Haiti six days ago.
Thankfully, the cholera cases have at least temporarily decreased. However, there is still plenty of medical work to keep John busy, including a man with terrible machete wounds on his hands and a 90-year-old man with cholera. I know John is grateful to be able to practice medicine in Haiti and that the people he is serving are grateful to have him among them.
I am thankful for so many blessings. I will list a few of them here.
1. That I am married to such a wonderful, generous man whose life work is caring for those who have so little.
2. The sound of our son Luke singing in the morning as he dresses for the day.
3. Having two such great families--the Kings and the Carrolls--to celebrate Thanksgiving and life with.
4. Our parish, St. Mark, a beacon of love on the hilltop.
5. Being born in a time, place, situation, and family that allows me to however imperfectly contribute to God's plan.
Really, the things I am thankful for are infinite, like God Himself. I hope that wherever you find yourself, you have a gratitude-filled Thanksgiving.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Nowhere To Go

I've been with my husband, Dr. John Carroll, as he's worked in different settings in Haiti: temporary clinics, hospitals, permanent clinics, whatever room we might be staying in. One of the consistent frustrations for John is that after he's helped a patient as much as he can, he often doesn't have a place to refer them to get more care. A patient might need a blood test, an x-ray, or to be admitted to the hospital. Frequently, there are no good options for the patient. Either there is no place close that can help them or they don't have the money to pay for care. John takes his time with patients and does everything he can for them. But the hardest thing about practicing medicine in Haiti for him, is when these patients leave him and he knows they need more medical care.

I got a small taste of this frustration when I worked at discharge planning at the Navy clinic. Many of the patients we saw would have qualified for one of the USNS Comfort's surgical slots if there were any left. In particular, there was one woman who had female problems such that she was bleeding. She was wearing a print sundress and carrying around a large, cotton-lined pad that she would sit on. At the discharge planning table, she was referred to a gynecological clinic. But she told us that she had no money to pay for this care. She said, "Can't they at least give me something for the pain?" I had some ibuprofen in my backpack, and I gave her several of them.

It felt like a very weak response.

Above is a view of the USNS Comfort from Cite Soleil.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Labor Day in Haiti

If jobs and employment are a big deal now in the United States, in Haiti, with an 80 percent unemployment rate, they are always a big deal.

Of course, it's not as if Haitians aren't working. Like the woman pictured above, the Haitians have plenty of work they do to survive--haul water, scrounge food, clean clothes. But there aren't enough paying jobs. so the majority of Haitians limp along--or not--trying to make it through another day.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Views from Delmas 5

While we were in Port-au-Prince, we stayed at the home of Vanessa Carpenter (AKA Mama V), who lives on Delmas 5. Vanessa runs the organization Angel Missions Haiti, which, much like Haitian Hearts, provides medical care to children in Haiti and also brings children to the States for surgery. They are also getting ready to open a school.

Vanessa was instrumental in helping coordinate the Navy's efforts in Haiti. She found most of the translators and also recruited others to help. We are grateful to her for asking us to be a part of the mission and for her hospitality to us.

At the beginning and end of each day, I would usually go up on Vanessa's roof, which had an amazing view of Port-au-Prince. All of the glories and agonies of Haiti were spread out before us: the mountains in the distance, the beautiful skies and ocean, tent cities and other little collections of shanties, kids playing soccer and kids singing, Hayti Tractor, the Caterpillar dealer, bustling tap taps. I would walk the roof and contemplate the day, suspended above the city.

Mildrede, one of the Haitian translators, and me on the roof.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Price of Peace

The amount of logistics it took to set up the Navy clinic was mindboggling.

The Navy had to find a site--actually two sites, one for the surgical-screening clinic and one for the medical clinic. This second site needed to be leveled, and then they laid down a bunch of rocks so the area wouldn't be so prone to muddiness. They set up dozens of tents, and some of them, like the dental tent, needed a power source. Then there was all the equipment, food, medicine, and supplies that needed to be brought in on smaller boats from the USNS Comfort. Communication between the First World environment of the ship and the Third World environment of Haiti was also tricky. And then, of course, the possibility that Hurricane Irene would strike Haiti threw a huge wrench into the proceedings. Everything had to be taken down, and the ship left for a couple days. When it returned, everything had to be set up again. To accomplish all of this, the Navy used its own people and also contracted with others.

Observing some of this arduous preparation, I commented to a soldier (the Army and the Air Force were involved too), "Now, I have some idea of what it's like to go to war."

The soldier shook his head and said, "This is harder than going to war."

I was amazed when I heard this but upon reflection, it made sense. The military's typical mission is fighting wars. It's what they are used to. In this case, the Navy was having to work with all of these NGO's and to a lesser extent, the Haitian government to implement this mission. They didn't have the control of their environment that they are used to. But all of this collaboration was the point: the mission was classified as a training mission, in which the Navy would learn to successfully work with a number of different organizations, as frustrating and difficult as that can be.

My first reaction to his statement, however, was a swirl of thoughts and quotes: the constructive process is a lot harder and takes longer than the destructive process; what we need is a moral equivalent of war; it's easier to run an authoritarian organization than a democratic one; if you want peace, work for justice.

And yes, justice is hard and expensive, but really only in the short run. When people are treated fairly, when they have enough food to eat, clean water, adequate shelter, medical care, education, safety--all the things we need for life--war isn't as great a possibility. To achieve this state of justice takes a lot of messy, time-consuming work.

But it's worth it, don't you think?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Haitians Not in Haiti

At least half of the translators who worked with the Navy during the past couple of weeks were junior high and high school students from two schools in Port-au-Prince. where the students are taught in English. Most of these kids are essentially bilingual, being fluent in English and Creole.

I had the opportunity to talk with one young woman, an eighth grader, whom I'll call Jocelyn.

Jocelyn spent her 6th and 7th grade years in Brooklyn with her grandmother, attending school. She returned to Haiti for her 8th grade year and lives with her parents, who both work in Haiti. Jocelyn is an American citizen; her English is actually better than her Creole. Jocelyn said to me,

"The media is always showing only the bad parts of Haiti. They never show the nice places in Haiti, like where I live. People think there are only poor areas in Haiti."

I have heard this criticism of Haiti news coverage before, though usually from people older than Jocelyn. I can't completely disagree with it; most of the coverage of Haiti focuses on the poor. On the other hand, poor people do make up the huge majority of the population.

On this trip, our 22-year-old nephew Tommy accompanied us. This was his first trip to Haiti. After we worked in Cite Soleil and toured other slums, for balance, I wanted Tommy to see a more prosperous part of Haiti. On one evening, we went to Petionville, a Port-au-Prince suburb, and had dinner with some upper-middle class friends of ours. On the way to their lovely home, we stopped at the Haitian bakery, Epi D'Or. Inside the modern building, Haitians ordered sandwiches, ice cream, or had a meal at the cafeteria. "These are all middle-class Haitians," our friend told us.

Back to Jocelyn: I asked her if she was going to attend high school in Haiti. Her answer was instructive: "Oh no. I want to attend high school in the United States."

So despite the good parts of Haiti that are overlooked by the media, Jocelyn wants to go to high school in the United States. I can't say I blame her. But I do see that she is already exhibiting a behavior pattern that is disturbing: she will defend and praise Haiti from afar.

The thing is, Haiti doesn't need her praise or the praise of other people from the diaspora. It needs their brains, their ambitions, their talents.

Haiti needs their presence.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Discharge Planning?

Today is the last day of the USNS Comfort's presence in Haiti. The ship will now sail home after five months conducting its training mission in nine countries. Besides helping people who needed medical care, the Navy's other goal was to improve its ability to work with governments and NGO's to coordinate health care. I am sure everyone learned a lot.

My last day working at the Navy's clinic was on Thursday. After the translators had checked in and were working, I was assigned to Discharge Planning. This unit referred patients who needed follow up care to providers in Port-au-Prince. The NGO's in Haiti had helped compile a small list of places patients could go to get help. Or, I should say, attempt to get help.

As an American nurse who was helping translate and refer put it, "This is depressing."

For one, many of the patients we saw clearly needed surgery. They had hernias, huge facial tumors, bone fractures that hadn't healed properly, terrible burn scarring, breast cancer that had broken through the skin wall, gynecological problems, eye tumors. These are people who would have been eligible for a surgical slot on the ship but with only 120 places, they filled up quickly.

Secondly, almost all of the patients we saw didn't have money to pay for follow up medical care, surgical or otherwise; that's why they came to the Navy clinic to begin with. I doubt many--any?--of them received any follow up care.

On the plus side, most of these patients left with some medications. I was also surprised at how many of the patients were able to write their phone numbers. We were collecting these in case a a NGO was able find the patient a place for surgery.

I am very happy for the patients who were able to be operated on or receive medical care on the ship. They are the big beneficiaries of the Navy's good work.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Soleil Clowns

Believe it or not, an organization called Clowns Without Borders exists. Two professional clowns live a couple houses down from us, and they told us about the group.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, children need to laugh and play. On the other hand, I've seen children in Haiti who were too sick or weak to do either. I think I'm too wedded to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as an explanatory philosophy to believe that the poor children of Haiti can benefit from clowns. It reminds me of my working-in-child-welfare-days when we used to mount these drives for Christmas presents for foster children. Yes, Christmas presents are nice, but they were not what these children really needed.

When John was working in Cite Soleil a few days ago, he stopped by Catherine Laboure Hospital to see how the patients he referred were doing. He said a few clowns were there and that it was kind of pathetic and bizarre. I know I find the idea absurd. But then Haiti is an absurd place.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

One Life

There is a saying—“One death is a tragedy, but a million deaths is a statistic,”—that is depressingly true from a PR point of view. Once when I was teaching English 110 at a community college, I talked some about Haiti, including the depressing maternal and infant mortality rates, the low life expectancy, etc. I got empty stares from my class.

But then a couple of days later, I talked about a sick child whom John was working with in Haiti. The class was spellbound as I described Mariella’s struggle for life against the ravages of malnutrition and diarrhea. “What can we do?” they asked.

Some of my recent blog posts seem a little vague to me, so I thought I’d focus on a particular child, Fernandez, pictured above. I had the opportunity to spend some time with Fernandez at the Sisters' malnutrition program in Cite Soleil. The Sisters are concerned about Fernandez because he is three years old and only weighs 18 pounds. Sometimes he is interested in eating, and sometimes he isn't. Although Fernandez has recently had a clear chest x-ray, many members of his family have tuberculosis, including his twin younger siblings and his grandmother.

For the most part, Fernandez's affect is flat. But he allowed me to pick him up and we walked around for a little while. He's kind of like carrying a small sack of potatoes; he's dead weight with no muscle tone, due to lack of protein. When I picked him up, there was no catch under his arms, of the muscle tensing, as he isn't strong enough.

But the good news, is that when I pulled a cheese and cracker out of my backpack, he ate it. And then another one. And then another one! I put him down and we walked around for awhile, until he spotted his mother and wanted to be with her.

The next day, I saw Fernandez scooting around on a small tricycle. He smiled and waved at me. A little while later, he came over and I picked him up. We walked around some more, and then I noticed Fernandez's head starting to bob, and conk, he was out. I sat down in the courtyard, and he napped on my lap until his mom came to retrieve him.

So though Fernandez is poor, with its frequent health problems, and lives in Cite Soleil, he has a couple of things going for him: he is enrolled in the Sisters' malnutrition program, and he has a mom who really loves him.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Return of the USNS Comfort and the Attack of the Killer Mosquitoes

I’m happy to report that with the threat of Hurricane Irene gone from these parts, the USNS Comfort is back in the bay of Port-au-Prince. We saw it at 5:30 this morning from the roof of our house on Delmas 5. The plan is that today they will resume surgeries on the ship, and tomorrow the onshore clinic will begin again. They didn’t need doctors at the clinic today, so John headed back to Cite Soleil, to work at the Sisters’ clinic.

So this morning, my nephew Tommy, some other volunteers, and I rode a tap tap (not quite as crowded as the one pictured above), the battered pick up trucks that serve as Haiti’s public transportation, up Delmas to retrieve another member of our crew. We would then head to the clinic site to see if they needed any help setting up.

Delmas is a one of the main thoroughfares through Port-au-Prince, leading up to Petionville, a more prosperous suburb. I pointed out different landmarks to Tommy. There is what’s left of One Stop, where we used to buy groceries (some of the Delmas area was hit hard by the earthquake); there’s Alta Grace, where we occasionally went to church. There’s the road that leads to Luke’s orphanage.

When we reached Delmas 91, we turned down a very steep hill, rutted with large holes and rocks. We bounced down it carefully, if, indeed one can bounce carefully; it’s all fun and games until the breaks go out.

After we picked up Jenny, we headed back down Delmas, bound for Terminal Varreux.
The ocean was in the distance, blending with the sky, making it impossible to tell where one stopped and the other began. As we got closer, we saw the USNS Comfort; the all-white ship with the red crosses appeared to be suspended in the sky, sent down from heaven.

At Terminal Varreux, a small group of patients were waiting. We made our way through the newly created mud from last night’s rain, heading toward the dock, where the translators and patients would board a small boat to take them to the ship.

I rubbed my hand, and then noticed I had some black mud on it. How did that get there? Then I saw what I thought was a fly on my arm. I attempted to brush it away, but it didn’t go. I looked more closely at my hand, and saw that it was no mud; it was a squashed mosquito. I looked around at others and saw the huge bugs alighting on any patch of bare skin. I mean these suckers were ginormous! They were getting tangled in Tommy’s leg hair, so I sprayed him down quick with my mosquito repellent. For the next several minutes, we were consumed with repelling the hoardes through spray and slapping. This sounds exaggerated, but it was bad.

In my experience, Haiti mosquitoes are small, silent, and stealthily, less obvious even than the type we have in the States. These mosquitoes were not going to be put off by a mere brush away. They had to be smacked. These were like the Special Forces mosquitoes; they weren’t going to be leaving your skin until they had some of your blood. As our friend Kristin said, “This is like inviting malaria.”

Fortunately after only a few minutes of this onslaught, we were able to take refuge in one of the military’s SUV’s. Since our presence wasn’t required at Terminal Varreux—as much set up had been done as possible—we rode back to Delmas 5. We will see what tomorrow brings.

Different World, Different Risks

A recent New York Times op-ed listed some of the health risks and threats to children today. They include obesity, due in part to the marketing of junk food, exposure to violent and sexually explicit electronic media content, thanks to little regulation, the increasing number of children who are medicated with psychotropic drugs, again facilitated by little regulation. These are all real risks, and the writer ties them to the rise of the corporation, a legally defined person, whose goals (profit) are at times in conflict with the best interest of other legal persons, like children.

Now, you probably know where this post is going. The risks that the writer details only apply to a certain small (relatively speaking) group of children: those from the developed world.

For our friend, above, from Wharf Jermie, a slum in Haiti, and billions like him, these risks don't threaten him, but a host of others do, some of which you can see in the picture. Dirty water carries all kinds of deadly diseases--typhoid fever, cholera, diarrhea. Malnutrition leads to stunted growth and development and sometimes death. Lack of health care, schooling, safe housing, a safe environment all pose huge risks to children, as do the lack of competent child welfare or criminal justice systems. There is a lot of child abuse in the developing world.

The children of Haiti don't have to worry about obesity, violent video games, or psychotropic drugs.

On the plus side, they are forced to exercise their creativity. This boy and his friends were having a lot of fun with their car, made from a plastic bottle and lids.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hurricane Irene Misses Haiti

Despite the original predictions, Hurricane Irene fortunately largely bypassed Hispaniola, the island containing Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Well, at least, I say "fortunately" as I think it's a good thing that one of the poorest countries in the world which lately has experienced a string of horrible luck (earthquake, cholera, other hurricanes) was able to dodge Irene.

But I guess the view that it's fortunate depends on your viewpoint. Here's a quote from an article in the Los Angeles Times:

"Earlier, meterologists had hoped that Irene might slow down; it was headed straight for Hispaniola and the mountain range saddling the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. 'It would have disrupted and likely weakened the storm,' Feltgen said.

That didn't happen."

Thank God, I and all the Haitian meteorologists say.

Pictured above are the clouds above the bay of Port-au-Prince at sunset, remnants of Hurricane Irene, the storm that missed Haiti.

Some Happy Haiti Pictures

Baby Central

Can't you see the whole universe in those eyes?

The Pied Piper of Wharf Jeremie

Two Life Changing Events on January 12, 2010

As for most people in Haiti, January 12, 2010 was a life-changing day for the woman pictured above. She gave birth to her son, whom she is holding, a little while before the earthquake. When the ground started to shake, the doctor yelled at her to get out of the building. But she didn't get out in time, and her arm was crushed. Fortunately, she and her son lived. She brought him into the Cite Soleil clinic, and John examined him. He was very dehydrated.

Back to Normal

Please don't miss the irony in the title of this post. As a friend who visited Haiti right before we did told us, Port-au-Prince looked as close to its pre-earthquake condition as she has seen it. And she's right. A lot of rubble has been cleared away, people are moving about more easily, much of the shock seems to have dissipated. But what passes as normal in Haiti is unbelievably harsh. Take the fellow above, hauling a car on his back; he was likely doing this before the earthquake too.

Ot take Cite Soleil, which sustained little damage during the earthquake. John told us about a saying that went around Haiti after January 12: Earthquakes don't kill people; buildings kill people. Cite Soleil has few big buildings capable of killing people when they collapse. Lucky them.

But as we saw today in the clinic and when we toured St. Catherine Laboure, a Doctors Without Borders hospital and the only hospital in Cite Soleil, a community of 250,000 plus, people are suffering from poverty and sickness that should be inexcusable in the 21st century. Septic babies near death, a two-year-old with congenital cataracts, dozens of children in the Sisters' malnutrition program, a baby with a terrible, open, fast-growing staph infection on his groin.

Yes, things are back to normal in Haiti and normal isn't good.

Some Haitian Culture

On Sunday, we had the opportunity to visit the Musee du Pantheon National Haitian, located across from the National Palace. The museum is built into the ground and--I don't know if this is the reason--sustained little damage in the earthquake.

The museum has two small wings, one devoted to the seven epochs of Haitian history and the other to artwork. A guide led us through both air-conditioned wings.

The historical wing was fascinating. As best I can remember, the seven eras of Haitian history are: the native period, the Spanish colonial period, the slavery period, the revolution period, two empire periods, and the presidential period.

The most famous artifact in the museum is the anchor from the Santa Maria, one of the three ships that Christopher Columbus sailed on his initial voyage. We snapped a few pictures before the guide told us no photography allowed, so we didn't get a photo of the anchor. However, we estimate it was about 10 feet tall and had the typical shape of an anchor.

The museum also contains the remains of the four men considered to be Haiti's founders: the great Touissant L'Overture, leader of the revolution, Jean Jacques Dessalines, founder of Haiti, Henri Christophe, the builder king, and Alexandre Petion, founder of the republic.

Pictured below are irons that would be put on slaves who escaped (maroons) and were recaptured. They would have to carry the 50-pound weight on their head. To this day, when Haitians refer to something very heavy, they say, "Cinquante livres," or 50 pounds.

Pictured above is a painting from the art wing of the museum. It shows the metaphorical birth of Haiti, with many of the country's influences.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Life in the Slums

Since the Navy operation has been shut down until Wed. thanks to Hurricane Irene, we've had to find other things to do, which hasn't been difficult. Both yesterday and today, we spent time in two of Haiti's poorest slums: Wharf Jeremie and Cite Soleil.

We'd been staring last week across the water at Wharf Jeremie from the Naval clinic at Terminal Varreux. A friend of ours, Jean Claude, who is helping to build houses there, took us to look around. It's difficult to describe these places in words or pictures, but they hardly look fit to support human life. And really, they don't, or at least not very well. Rocks, dirt, sewage, rusty tin, gray-brown water form to combine a hellish scene. Yet children, with their unnatural pot bellies, often naked from the waist down, laugh and play there, just like they do everywhere.

Before visiting Wharf Jeremie, we had stopped by the ruins of the Port-au-Prince cathedral. The semi-professional beggers descended on us, while not once in Wharf Jeremie did anyone ask for anything, other than to see the picture we had taken of them. Below are some children in Wharf Jeremie, carrying a picture of Haiti's most appropriate patron saint, Our Lady of Perpetual Help

Today in Cite Soleil, John worked at the clinic run by the Daughters of Charity. The Sisters have an oasis in the middle of another harsh environment, where children receive medical treatment, food, and schooling. Their mothers learn to sew and embroider. Once again, John Claude was our driver. He knows Soleil well, having grown up there.

We saw this champ in Cite Soleil, enjoying his bath.

My thanks to John and Tommy Carroll for the generous use of their pictures.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Say It Isn't So, Irene

We received some disappointing news this morning. The onshore clinic was cancelled for today and the next two days, as Hurricane Irene is headed for the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The most recent prediction that we have heard has the storm over Haiti in the early morning hours of Tuesday, August 23.

Unfortunately, the hurricane isn't only affecting the clinic; the surgeries for these three days have also been cancelled. This afternoon, the USNS Comfort evacuated the patients, some non-military medical staff, and the translators. The ship will likely be moving as to stay out of the path of the storm. At this point, the Navy's plan is to resume clinic and the surgeries on Wednesday, August 24, if possible.

We are hoping and praying that both for Haiti's sake and for the success of the USNS Comfort's mission that Hurricaine Irene does not prove to be too destructive. As you can see below, the first day of clinic was very popular.

Working with the Translators

My job on this trip has been helping to coordinate the translators.

First, a little background: the USNS Comfort has been on its humanitarian tour since March. They have brought medical care to Costa Rica, El Salvador, Peru, Ecuador, Jamaica, and Columbia, among others. Haiti is their last stop before returning to Norfolk, Virginia.

At each of the countries the Navy has visited, they have needed translators to work with the doctors and patients. Because the other countries the ship visited are Spanish speaking, they haven't needed as many translators, as many people on the Comfort speak Spanish. In Haiti, they were asking for 100 translators for each day. And by the way, this is a volunteer position; the only pay is a meal and water each day and then at the end, a much-coveted certificate stating that the person did translation work for the U.S. Military. Many of the translators travel up to two hours each way on their own gourdes.

Nonetheless, this did not stop about 150 translators from showing up to work. These translators were referred by various organizations: schools, the US Embassy, churches, and NGOs. My job has been to take down the names of the translators (for the all important certificates, so the translators are very eager to check in with me), ascertain that they are capable of translating, get them their ID badges, help assign them to an area, and troubleshoot for them during the day.

I quizzed them on where they learned English. Quite a few are self taught. Some of the best English-speakers are kids ages 13-18 from a school in Port-au-Prince. They are basically bilingual in English and Creole.

It was a little chaotic the first couple of days, but having too many translators is a much better problem then too few. The translators are assigned to a doctor or a tent. There are tents dedicated to registration, pediatrics, general medical, dental, opthomology, women's health, pharmacy, and discharge planning. Other translators help escort the patients from tent to tent. The system runs a little more smoothly each day.

The clinic is in a hot, shadeless area, so water is very important. The Navy is passing out Meals Ready to Eat, which I'll write more about later.

Pictured above are some translators arriving on the first day of clinic.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Haitian Hearts with the USNS Comfort in Haiti

Now that the USNS Comfort has been docked off Haiti for three days, what’s been going on? The Navy, with the help of other branches of the services, the Haitian government, and a whole lot of NGO’s, including Haitian Hearts, set up a clinic specifically to screen patients for surgery on the boat. John was immensely important in this process as the Navy had him initially screen the patients. With his knowledge of tropical medicine, which is a nice name for trying to help people in poor countries with their health problems, and fluency in Creole, John was able to direct people to the appropriate station. It took only a day and a half for the ship’s 120 surgical slots to fill up. We were happy to see that one of our Haitian friends was able to get a surgical slot on the boat. We saw her off this afternoon in a smaller boat that was ferrying her to the ship.

Also for two days, and continuing on to the end of August, the Navy is running a shore side clinic at Port Verrieux, a private port the Navy is leasing, for people with non-surgical medical problems. Today was the second day of this clinic; 777 patients were seen today and 737 yesterday. John started working at this clinic today. It is not far from Cite Soleil, and many of the people who come to the clinic are from there. In many ways, this clinic is similar to others that John has worked at in Haiti.

So what the heck am I doing in Haiti besides writing this post and trying not to get sunburned? Check back next time!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

We're Back in Haiti

We've come to help the good folks on the USNS Comfort, a great-looking ship, as you can see below, docked in the Bay of Port-au-Prince. . . .

Help very important people, like this little boy and his mom. Stay tuned for more stories.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Live from Montgomery, Alabama

For the past few days, John, Luke, and I have been traveling to see some of the Civil Rights sites in Alabama. In Birmingham, we toured the Civil Rights Institute and saw the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four little girls were killed in an explosion detonated by white racists. We walked the streets around Kelly Ingram Park where black adults and children who were peacefully marching and demonstrating were attacked by dogs and fire hoses.

In Montgomery, we went to the Rosa Parks Museum. She was the seamstress who in 1955 wouldn't give up her seat on the bus to a white man. Her arrest launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott which began the modern day Civil Rights movement. We toured the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was pastor from 1954-1960. In Montgomery, King's home was bombed with his wife and baby girl in it.

I have to hand it to the people of Alabama; it takes a certain amount of humility to make two huge and long lasting mistakes of your history (slavery/Civil war and racism/Jim Crow laws) the basis of much of your tourism. Visiting these sacred national shrines has been an education and one that I keep trying to apply to Haiti. I think part of the difficulty for Haiti is there are so many problems and the foes are many: a long history of the international community meddling in a destructive fashion in the affairs of Haiti; a corrupt, incompetent government; rich Haitians who have a vested interest in things remaining the same; natural disasters of Biblical proportion.

In Alabama and throughout the south in the 50's and 60's, through all the insults, harassment, attacks, and killings, King and other movement leaders, like the unsung Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth of Birmingham, insisted that these awful sins be met with nonviolence and love. It is amazing to learn about the devotion and bravery of the people in the Civil Rights movement. They had no real reason to think they would succeed anytime soon. Of course we know now that in large ways they did, but it wasn't a foregone conclusion, it wasn't inevitable. History always seems much neater than the messy present.

Perhaps this messiness and the peculiar paradox of American history can best be illustrated by the fact that the Alabama Capitol, where Jefferson Davis was inaugurated president of the Confederacy, and the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where the Civil Rights movement began in the meetings to plan the bus boycott, are a block away. You can stand on the porch of the church and look up at the domed capitol. Yes, Montgomery is both the cradle of the Confederacy and the cradle of the Civil Rights movement. Welcome to America.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Three Weeks Working at a Cholera Treatment Center

John returned home this past Tuesday after three weeks in Haiti working at the Cholera Treatment Center at Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Deschapelles. We exchanged many emails during the course of his stay. I reread his emails and constructed the passage below from them. Each sentence is from a separate email and they are in chronological order. It gives a compressed idea of what his stay was like.

For a more detailed account of John's work in Haiti, please check out the blog he wrote for the Peoria Journal Star.

The airport was disastrous: no luggage. . . I think cholera is very bad here, but will know more in a couple of hours. . . It is so weird sitting here hour after hour as people stuff themselves with the buffet while a large tent city looms just down the block from here and cholera is going crazy. . . There are five cholera tents and one building with walls that house cholera patients. . . I have never admitted and taken care of so many sick people in one day in my life. . . The chest compression man yesterday who is Fleurisma was sitting on his cot today talking and he was dying last night. . .Patient after patient in semi unconscious states are the bad ones, and others with mild cholera act good and just need oral rehydration solution and some observation, and if they look good in the afternoon, we send them packing back up the mountain. . .My hands cramp up each morning. . . About 280 patients on campus for cholera yesterday was the official estimate. . . I didn't lose any patients last night because God made them strong. . .The heavy afternoon rain caved in our tarp and many cholera patients on cots are drenched in cold rain and they are very sick, very pathetic, horrible scene. . . A little old man that came in late this afternoon just died. . . I put an IV in her ankle and her hand and we squeezed fluid into her for an hour and she woke up. . . Picture hundreds of people with their hundreds of relatives in hot sweltering tents in Haiti right now and the sick ones are vomiting and having diarrhea. . . A hellish morning here. . . Many saves today: old people, young people with no pulse and they come back. . . Worked on five people at once, and when one was strong enough after a liter of fluid I would ask him or her to stand and let another sit who could not stand anymore. . . I just don't know what to make of this experience. . .

Friday, July 08, 2011

The Eyes Have It

Besides doing his good medical work and writing his blog for the Peoria Journal Star about the cholera epidemic in Haiti, John also takes amazing pictures, like the one above. It particularly struck me, as pictures and individuals do from time to time. John used this picture to illustrate the practically nonexistent state of dental care in Haiti and what that does to people's teeth.

But despite the awful condition of his teeth, this 20-year-old's big, beautiful eyes are what grab me. His overall expression is one of discomfort, as cholera is a painful, sapping disease. But his eyes seem to contain so many other qualities: sadness, acceptance, sensitivity, knowingness, longing.

In their expressiveness and beauty, they remind me of my son's eyes. I think about how many more Lukes of all ages there are in Haiti.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Becoming American

This is an article that, between the interviewing and the writing, I worked on for a couple of years. I thought posting it on Independence Day would be appropriate as I hope it reflects on some of the strengths of the United States of America. In part, it also tells the story of a little Haitian boy who is now a U.S. citizen.

Young La first experienced America on the receiving end of a bomb. He was seven-years-old, and he and his family huddled in a cave near their home in Cambodia. In 1970, the Vietnam War expanded to Cambodia as President Nixon ordered airborne attacks to try to root out the Vietnamese soldiers who were taking refuge in this neutral country. Bombs exploded for five hours as two planes dove and dropped their deadly cargo around Young’s family. "But the soldiers were in the jungles, not the towns," explained Young. The bombs killed villagers and animals, turning the water of their ponds black. During a break, Young and his family ran out into the country where his father had a threshing machine. As they were running, another menacing plane approached. "Keep running!" urged Young's mother. "Don't look back!”

They spent most of the next decade dodging bombs, bullets, and the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge. They farmed, made wine, and worked on a bicycle assembly line to survive. They moved from Cambodia to the border area of Vietnam and back again to avoid the violence, as both countries warred with themselves. “I spent most of my early life in Cambodia,” said Young. “All of it was war.”

Young La’s family chose him to try to get to the United States, as improbable as that journey seemed. They paid a man several ounces of gold to lead Young through the jungles to a UN refuge camp in Thailand. And, here, Young’s luck began to change. He spent only seven months in the camp, unlike his cousin, who spent seven years there, before he got on a Pan Am flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong to Seattle and onto the Midwest. The country that inflicted chaos and destruction on Young’s family and nation would become his new home.

A friend of my mine has a philosophy about being American. He says if you believe in the American idea, than you are an American, no matter where you live. The fundamental American idea is expressed with power and economy in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” This truth doesn’t only apply to people who live within our borders. Maybe realizing that should be part of being American.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Joe Billy McDade is a federal judge, senior status, in Peoria on the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. McDade was born in Texas in 1937, but he didn’t have access to his full rights as an American for another three decades.

McDade’s parents died when he was a young boy, and he and his sister were raised by his paternal grandmother. He experienced one of those life-defining moments when he was ten. “My grandmother was only two generations out of slavery and she was subservient to whites,” recalled McDade. “In those days, we had peddlers who would go from house to house selling things. A white peddler came to our door peddling brooms. My grandma bought a broom. I said, ‘Mama J, we can't afford to buy a broom.' We needed that money for our rent. I thought, 'When I grow up, I'm going to be an attorney so that I don't have to buy a broom.' In my mind, lawyers were the epitome of justice."

McDade attended Jack Yates High School, one of three black high schools in Houston, and graduated in 1955, a year after the Brown decision, desegregating schools. Upon the recommendation of a teacher, he applied to and was accepted at Bradley University in Peoria.

McDade played basketball at Bradley and earned a bachelor's in economics and a master's in psychology. He attended law school at the University of Michigan. After he graduated in 1963, he interviewed with some of the top national law firms. None of them offered him a job. He then interviewed with Peoria law firms. "They took me out to lunch and told me no. That was the difference between them and the national firms; they took me to lunch to tell me no." Later on, when McDade returned to Peoria, he was still well known for his success on the hardwood at Bradley. "One man was happy to have my autograph, but then told me, 'No, I won't rent to you.' It was painful."

As late as 1964, the law in the United States did not reflect the core American ideal of equality. The Civil Rights Act redressed this inequity by preventing baseless discrimination and promoting fairness and equality of opportunity. All are created equal was a long time in coming.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

In 2005, my husband, Dr. John Carroll, was making rounds at Grace Children’s Hospital in the Delmas section of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. For almost 30 years, John has spent several months a year working in this medically understaffed county. He went to a baby bed and put his arms out to the toddler sitting there. There was no interest; however, the child in the next bed observing this interaction, pulled himself to his feet and put his arms up. It was the moment upon which our son’s fate turned.

John lifted the boy out of the bed. As he carried him around the ward, he thought, “This child doesn’t really look sick.” He approached the nurse’s station and as if reading his mind the nurse said to him, “Abandone.” A couple months later, we would begin the lengthy, complex American and Haitian processes of international adoption.

We moved the boy we were calling Luke from the hospital to an orphanage. We visited him every couple of months on our regular trips to Haiti, as the paperwork wound its way through the system. He loved playing with my watch, staring at the words in a textbook as if he knew how to read, and gobbling down the protein bars we brought him.

For a poor, parentless boy in a poor country, adoption was a miracle route to U.S. citizenship. Since 1989, around 300,000 children from outside the United States have been adopted by American citizens. This may sound like a lot until you consider that UNICEF estimates that there are 163 million orphans worldwide. Luke’s citizenship wasn’t an accident of birth; it was an accident of circumstance.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

After McDade couldn't get a job in Peoria, he was hired in Chicago by the U.S. Department of Justice anti-trust division. He worked there for 18 months and returned to Peoria, having been offered a job in the executive training program at First Federated Savings and Loan. He later went on to work at the Greater Peoria Legal Society, which provided legal services to the poor. Under his leadership, the office expanded from one attorney to four attorneys. He worked in private practice from 1977 to 1982, when he was appointed associate judge in the 10th Circuit District. In 1988, he ran as a Republican for resident judge of the 10th District. He received more votes for this position than anyone running from either party had ever received before. So, though he may not have been able to get a job at one of the law firms in town, "it appeared that I was popular among my customers," said McDade.

Reflecting on the journey that took him from his hardscrabble roots in Texas to his position as a judge, McDade said, "In my life, I've been given opportunities. I was born in such poverty and had restrictions on my freedom, and now to be a U.S. Federal judge. . . it's an example of what can happen under our system. My appointment as a federal judge--you don't get this just because of merit. A lot of people are capable and there is a lot of luck involved."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Luke is eight now and no longer the 25 pound 3-year-old with the orange-tinged hair whom we brought home from Haiti. He is a third grader who does well in his school work and received an award for demonstrating Christian leadership. He loves to wrestle with his dad and play soccer. He was born a go getter and now lives in a place that channels and rewards that quality. He wouldn’t mind being president, but we will have to expand our idea of who is eligible for this position and then write it into the Constitution for that to happen. It’s not an impossibility.

When we landed with Luke at the Miami International Airport on February 19, 2007, he automatically became an American. A couple weeks later, Luke received a letter from President George W. Bush, congratulating him on his citizenship. The letter contained these words:

“Americans are united across the generations by grand and enduring ideals. The grandest of these ideals is an unfolding promise that everyone belongs, that everyone deserves a chance, and that no insignificant person was ever born. Our country has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by principles that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests, and teach us what it means to be citizens. Every citizen must uphold these principles. And every new citizen, by embracing these ideas. makes our country, more, not less, American.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Young La was resettled by Catholic Charities in West Peoria, Illinois. For awhile, he lived in their residential facility, Tha Huong, which in Vietnamese means home away from home. Young would ride his bike in the neighborhood and one day, he met my mother-in-law, Mary. She was interested in Young and offered to tutor him in English. They became friends and some years later when Young needed a place to live, she told him he could stay with her so he could save some money. Mary helped find him a good job, too, constructing meat smokers. In turn, he could fix anything in the house, cooked delicious meals, and became like a loyal son to her.

Young graduated from Illinois Central College with an associate’s degree in electronics. He became an American citizen in 1992 and several years later returned to Cambodia where he married a lovely, smart, young woman, Chhoung Tang. He returned to Peoria and began the arduous visa process to bring Chhoung to the United States. After a three-year wait, the visa was granted and Young brought his wife to her new home. They now have two darling daughters. They own their home in West Peoria.

A couple of years ago, Young’s wife Chhoung, took her oath of citizenship in Judge McDade’s courtroom, like Young did 17 years earlier. As the judge entered the courtroom, all stood. "Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes! God save the United States and God save this honorable court," cried the clerk.

A statement was read by an immigration official that the gathered individuals had passed an interview and an exam and should be admitted to citizenship upon taking the following oath of allegiance.

"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."

After the oath, McDade had everyone rise and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Then we broke out into song. Judge McDade told us that he would sing the first verse of "America the Beautiful” and for us all to join in if we wanted to. We sang it and it went so well, McDade said, "That was really nice. Let's sing it again." So we did.

"I just love that song," said McDade. "It hits me where it's good to be hit once in awhile."

Next, we heard from dignitaries who assembled to address the new citizens. There were representatives from Rep. Aaron Schock's office, Sen. Roland Burris's office, the Social Security Dept., the Daughters of the American Revolution, the American Legion, Post #2, and the League of Women Voters. All offered their welcome and words of advice to the new citizens.

At the end of the ceremony, Judge McDade made some remarks.

"I get a little sentimental on these occasions," he said. "As a judge, I am usually doing things that are injurious to people, like sending them to jail. I don't like to do this, but it's necessary."

"We just want you to know that we're glad you're here. I appreciate that this has been a tough road. You did it the right way. To a certain extent, I wish that all Americans could go through this process. Some of us who are native born don't fully appreciate the benefits of citizenship like you do."

Nodding at the dignitaries, McDade encouraged the new citizens to get involved. These volunteer organizations are "the essence of participatory democracy. Join them because that's how things get done in this country. You will bring something very unique to these groups. Your involvement is a great opportunity for this country to learn from you."

"This is one of the most important tasks I have,” said McDade. “I'm helping this country grow by helping with the naturalization process." Because all Americans, “with the exception of two groups, are ancestors of immigrants or immigrants: the American Indian and Black Americans who were brought here in chains. Some of you came from countries where freedom is not complete. . . yet."

The judge then read through a list of all the countries represented by the new citizens and asked them to stand as he read their country's name. "I want to get a good look at you:

"Bolivia, Cambodia, Canada, People's Republic of China, El Salvador, India, Korea, Macedonia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, Singapore, the UK, Sudan, France, and Vietnam."

One by one, or in the case of China several at once, all rose as their country of origin was called.

"Now turn around and look at each other," said McDade. "Go ahead. Do it. Look at each other. You're beautiful. This is America. You see how different you are. You are all equal as Americans. You've got a lot of other countries and everyone looks alike: their skin color, languages, customs, religion are all alike. In this country, that is not true. Almost everyone is different."

My husband John, along with other friends and relatives of the new citizens, was up with the new citizens, taking pictures. I was back in the visitors’ gallery with Young and his daughter Annie, who had fallen asleep in her father's lap.

Judge McDade continued his remarks: "In America, we believe strongly that freedom and liberty are precious things. With freedom, you can do good things or bad things. But you have the opportunity to create your own life here, the way you want to. Everyone has this opportunity. I grew up without any parents, picking cotton in the South. I was subjected to discrimination, some of it legal. Now, I'm one of 1,000 federal judges. One of your descendents will hold important positions in the government--perhaps even president."

"Now, I'm going to be the one to tell you this, because you'd find out eventually. Some people don't want you here. They don't want me here. They want people who only look like them and think like them. This country is big enough for all of us. We need you to make America better. I'm glad you're here. I expect a lot out of you. I expect you to make this country better than you found it."

And with that citizenship certificates were handed out and Judge McDade was the first person to shake the new Americans' hands. He told them he would stay in the court room for pictures as long as they wanted.

America for all, and all for America.

Monday, June 27, 2011

What a World. What a World.

Today two patients died in the Cholera Treatment Center where John is working. With the number of patients they have had coming to the center, and the severity of the disease, it was inevitable. But still very hard and very sad.

Sometimes I feel a little inane when I send John emails about what I am doing in the States: today Luke had swimming lessons and then we went to the park; the weather has been rainy and cool; we had two deliveries from Amazon; while he is trying to keep death at bay for dozens of patients. At best, I hope my emails will provide a little needed distraction to John from the difficulties of the day.

It is a mind boggling concept to reflect upon: while many of us in the developed world go about our relatively cushy lives, people all over the world are dying in wars, from starvation, from preventable diseases. Children are abused and even sold as slaves. People are rotting and tortured, unjustly held in unknown prisons. All of this is going on at this moment.

We may shrug and give the winner's response, "That's life. It's always been that way." But why does it have to be that way? Of course, there is no avoiding suffering for any of us, but why does life have to be so horribly miserable for so many? I don't think there are satisfactory answers to this question. We've managed to construct fairer societies for hundreds of millions of people; we can create a world where everyone receives the basics.

If we want to badly enough.

Pictured above, a boy and his mother at the Cholera Treatment Center where John is working.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Why Cholera Is Only A Disease of Poor Countries

Since John has been in Haiti working at a Cholera Treatment Center, a few people have asked me how he makes sure he doesn't get the disease. What I tell them is that he doesn't really have to worry about it. People get cholera by drinking dirty water. It is rarely spread through person to person contact. In theory, cholera could be spread by the feces or vomit of an infected person, but as long as John and other health care workers take regular precautions in working with patients, they aren't in danger of contracting it.

There have been a few people who have entered the United States with cholera since the Haitian epidemic. In fact, an article in John's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine that arrived today discusses a man in Massachusetts who had been in the Dominican Republic where he contracted cholera. As the doctors in the article reiterated, cholera epidemics are a function of dirty water and inadequate sanitation, neither of which those of us in the United States or other developed countries have to worry about. And most of the citizens from these developed countries don't have to worry about contracting the disease, even when they are in a country, like Haiti, where there is a cholera outbreak.

Cholera, like many other rotten things, discriminates in favor of poor people.

Pictured above is a patient from the Cholera Treatment Center where John is working at Hopital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles, Haiti.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How Cholera Kills

If you're from the developed world and you hear the word diarrhea, you probably think of a runny, brown substance, like liquid stool. The picture above is of a bucket containing diarrhea from a patient who has cholera. As you can see, it looks like water: hence its deadliness. Cholera, a bacterial infection, can cause copious vomiting and diarrhea. Fluids are leached from the body, severe dehydration ensues, and if untreated, death can occur within hours. Because of its watery appearance, cholera diarrhea is often referred to as "rice water."

After its initial outbreak last October, cholera is surging again in Haiti, abetted by the recent rains, which have spread the bacteria. John is currently working at a Cholera Treatment Center at Hopital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles Haiti, in the Artibonite Valley, where cholera was introduced to Haiti, most likely by UN troops. You can read about his work at a blog he his writing for our hometown newspaper, the Peoria Journal Star.

The good news about cholera is, though it is deadly, it is easily treated with fluids. People who are practically comatose are sitting up and talking after a couple of hours of IV fluids.

The bad news for Haitians is that cholera is often not the only health problem they are battling. In the picture above, which John took at the Cholera Treatment Center today, you can see a large, white worm that was excreted out with the fluid in the bucket. As John said, "Chronic worms and acute cholera."

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Doctor is In

Sometimes it's easy for me to take for granted what my husband John does for all of his patients. Take Excellent, for example. He is a Haitian man in his fifities who for an unknown reason, has a large amount of fluid in the space around his heart. When John was in Haiti on his last trip, he saw Excellent and all of the fluid was making it very difficult for him to breathe. So John put a needle in Excellent's chest and drained off a lot of this fluid. This was a brave thing for John to do and a brave thing for Excellent to endure. It is no small thing to insert a needle in the chest without the benefit of xray to help guide the process. But it paid off, and Excellent was much improved. He could breath easily again, and he and his wife were very grateful to John.

This was enough in my book to qualify for amazing. But once John was home he continued to call Haiti for reports on how Excellent was doing. Unfortunately, his pericardial space was filling up with fluid once again. Now, there was no doctor in Excellent's town who was able to drain away the fluid. Even though he was in the United States, John considered Excellent his patient, and he feels an obligation to his patients. John made many phone calls and sent many emails to Florida and Port-au-Prince, and he found a clinic in the capital city with doctors willing to see Excellent and possibly drain the fluid out of his chest. John made many more calls to Haiti and arranged for a bus to transport Excellent, his wife, and an escort the five hours from his home to Port-au-Prince. And last week, Excellent was once again breathing easier because, thanks to John's advocacy and efforts and the skilled doctors at the clinic, Excellent got the fluid that is choking his breath drained from his chest.

I am very proud of John for his efforts on behalf of Excellent. It is humbling to me too, because I think of all the times I haven't gone the extra mile, or even the extra inch for someone in need. Wouldn't it be great if we all derived such passion and joy from using our talents and opportunities to serve those most in need of them? What a world it would be! Thanks John for living this lesson.

In the picture above, John removes the stitches from the forehead of a neighbor.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Behind the Scenes of the Today Show segment on Haitian Hearts

Widnerlande and Haitian Hearts were profiled on the Today Show on February 22, 2011. Here is a link to the segment.

I thought it would be fun to let you know some of the behind-the-scenes stuff regarding our appearance on the Today Show. When we were in Sacramento at the Ronald McDonald House awaiting surgery for Widnerlande, the family that is hosting Widnerlande contacted their daily newspaper, the Sacramento Bee, and the paper did a story about her, which you can read here. Pam Adams of the Peoria Journal Star also reported on Widnerlande when she was in Peoria, prior to going to California.

NBC producer Dana Roecker saw the story in the Sacramento Bee, and he emailed me about the possibility of doing a story. Dana wrote:

"I was struck by your amazing organization, Haitian Hearts, your focused persistence on bringing care to an impoverished country and the chaotic trek of a little 7 year old girl. Your efforts, I am sure, are probably often overlooked, and I am also sure that for you, the focus is on the children."

So, right away I liked Dana! He went on to say that he works with reporter Jenna Wolfe, who was raised in Haiti. Dana emailed me the morning that Luke and I were leaving Sacramento to return home. We exchanged a few more emails, notified the hospital, Sutter Children's Center, about the Today Show's interest, and then Dana talked with John. The next day, Dana flew from New York to Sacramento. He filmed at the hospital and got some footage of Widnerlande, John, and the host father.

A week later, on January 31, Dana and Jenna Wolfe flew from New York to Peoria. They were in town for about a total of 4 hours. They pulled up at 11 am in front of the house in a rental van loaded with all of Dana's sound and light equipment. While he set up everything in the living room, John and I chatted with Jenna.

Jenna was born in Jamaica, but lived in Haiti until she was 14. Her father runs a factory there and, he splits his time between Haiti and New York. Jenna went back to Haiti, shortly after the earthquake to do some reporting. After much searching, Jenna found the woman who served as her nanny when she was a child. This woman survived the earthquake, but was living in a tent, and Jenna said it was a very emotional moment to see her again.

Jenna interviewed John on camera for about 10 minutes and then me for about five minutes. There are two cameras set up, so that both Jenna and whomever she is interviewing can be filmed. They then took some shots around the house: of us at the computer, John looking at Widnerlande's medical notes with Jenna.

Jenna told us that she had received a 3 am wake up call, and a driver had picked her up to go to the airport around 4:45. They flew from NYC to Chicago and Chicago to Peoria. Jenna was traveling on to Dallas to do some reporting about the Super Bowl, and then after that she was going to Florida. Ooh, these kinds of national reporting jobs seem grueling, and I told Jenna it is good that she is young! Dana was returning to New York to put together the story.

On top of this, we were all bracing for the Blizzard of 2011. Jenna and Dana finished at our home at about 12:45 pm and they needed to be at the airport at 1:30. But they wanted to do some filming in front of a Peoria landmark or population sign. The closest sign I could think of was on the lovely Farmington Rd. For those of you not familiar with Peoria, Farmington Rd. is a main thoroughfare through the western part of town that has a rather unincorporated feel about it. It boasts lots of bars, a speedway, comedy club, strip joint, tattoo parlor, etc. But we were pressed for time and so Grandview, which overlooks a beautiful river view, or downtown were out.

Dana packed up his equipment, and we went trucking the half mile to Farmington Rd. The Peoria sign is not far from one of the aforementioned bars, I believe it was The Dormitory, and we parked in their parking lot. Poor Jenna--she is tiny--had to climb up on this snow mound for the filming. And of course, while the camera was rolling, every loud truck in Peoria decided to roar up the road. Thankfully, I think they could edit out the background noise. They did several takes; Jenna recited her copy from memory, or maybe she was just making it up as she went along. But it was good. Both she and Dana are real pros; they were exceedingly gracious.

From there, we led them to the airport and off they went, thankfully, before the big snow hit. After their trip to Peoria, we exchanged several emails with Dana to provide additional info. And then it was just the wait for the air date.

A few observations about this experience: it is mindboggling how much travel, work, and expense goes into what turned out to be a 4 1/2 minute report. I will remember that as I watch news programs in the future. We are grateful to Dana and Jenna for spending their valuable time and talent letting people know about Haitian Hearts and to NBC for broadcasting the report.

It is also humbling, the nice things that people have said about us and the work that we do at Haitian Hearts. All credit to John. Without him, these children who've needed heart surgery would not have made it to the United States. As I indicated in my prior post, he personifies perseverance. John is in Haiti now, and I don't even know if he's had the opportunity to see the Today Show report. As he would tell you, a lot of people help with Haitian Hearts. But he is the one indispensable person.

Good publicity is nice for its own sake, but what do we hope is accomplished by the report on the Today Show? More than contributions, which are always helpful, we need hospitals that are willing to accept a Haitian child for surgery. We are hoping that this media attention will allow us to make some connections with hospitals. Please go to our website at to learn more about how to help.

Beyond that, I hope that the segment on Widnerlande helps put a face on the problems that exist in Haiti. It's easy to become overwhelmed by the huge difficulties that the poverty and the earthquake, on top of that, have created in Haiti. Learning about one person's challenges and story can be an entree to getting involved in some way.

Thanks for reading.

Pictured above, the Peoria sign on Farmington Rd. that appeared in the Today Show segment.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

This Is Perseverance

The virtue of the month at my son's school was perseverence. The accompanying handout had these words: "Remember the story of the little engine? Let that be our motto: 'I think I can. I think I can. I know I can!' With God's help, all things are possible. Never give up!" And also, Look at the examples of the saints. How many of them were quitters? None!"

Living and working in Haiti requires perseverance. The family of the woman in the picture above displayed much perseverance in getting her to the hospital. She has persevered to stay alive long enough to have grey hair.

John has made six trips to Haiti in the last 10 months. Last month, he arranged for the 143rd Haitian Hearts patient to travel to California for surgery. He found the patient pictured below in Cite Soleil. He's a three-year-old boy with a heart defect, an atrial septal defect (ASD) and John has been contacting people trying to find a hospital. Could this little guy be patient 144?


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Widnerlande is Out of the Hospital!

I am happy to report that Widnerlande is out of the hospital and dancing with her host family. Her recovery has gone very well and we pray that it continues. She is in the loving care of her host family in Sacramento and we know that she will enjoy life in northern California.
We are very thankful to her host family, Helen Nusbaum and Steven Meinrath, for hosting Widnerlande during her stay in California. She will continue to be monitored by the doctors at Sutter until she is discharged from their medical care, probably in four to six weeks.
It truly takes a village!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Widnerlande's Successful Surgery!

At long last, Widnerlande had surgery at Sutter Memorial Medical Center in Sacramento on Monday. I am happy to report that the surgery was very successful and her recovery is going well. In the operating room, they discovered that she had two VSDs (Ventrical Septal Defects), which are openings between the lower chambers of the heart. One was so small, it wasn't visible to the naked eye. Both openings have been patched. This surgery will add decades to Widnerlande's life. Her resting heart rate would go has high as 164 a minute and her respiration rate could get to 80 breaths a minute. These were signs that her little heart was having to work too hard. With the repairs, her heart and lungs and whole body will have an easier time of it.

So many people helped make this happen, (please read John's account) but the two guys most responsible are pictured above: my wonderful husband John Carroll, who for six years, never gave up on Widnerlande and Dr. Teimour Nasirov a great guy and a great surgeon who worked his magic in the operating room.

We also thank from the bottom of our hearts, Sutter Memorial Medical Center for their generosity to Widnerlande. Because of everyone's efforts, a little girl from a very poor family in Haiti will live decades longer than she would have.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Patient Gets Sick

So at 5:30 this morning, I'm helping Widnerlande get dressed, as today is the big surgery day, and as my hand brushes her stomach, I think, "Gee, she feels warm. Really warm." And, of course, she was running a 101 degree temp and, of course, surgery was postponed until Monday. I say of course, because if you've been following the journey of Widnerlande then you know it's been full of obstacles, large and small. In the scheme of things, this is a small one, though, of course, it's easy to get a little discouraged.

But what is the point in that? We are so blessed to be here in Sacramento, so blessed to have Widnerlande accepted by Sutter Memorial and Dr. Teimour Nasirov, who will fix the hole in her heart on Monday, instead of Friday, so blessed to be getting a break from the harsh Midwestern winter, and so blessed to have met so many wonderful people. Blessed, even, to discover that Widnerlande has a little virus before surgery. We can't control everything and there is no use fretting about what we can't, a lesson I seem to have to relearn on a regular basis.

One of the things we can control are the choices we make in this moment, this one right now. We can choose our attitude, and I'll leave you with a quote that helps me with mine.

"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company. . . a church. . . a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past. . .we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We can not change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you. . . we are in charge of our Attitudes."- Charles R. Swindoll

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Reprieve Before Surgery

Today was the day in between the medical tests of yesterday and the surgery which is tomorrow. I'd like to use this lull before the storm to talk about the Sacramento Ronald McDonald House, where we are staying. This is our second experience staying at Ronald McDonald House, the first being in Cleveland, and both experiences have me thinking that we should run our communities in a similar manner.

Both of the facilities are very nice. In Sacramento, we are staying in a lodge-like building. We have a nice room with three beds, a futon, linens, towels, and a bathroom, one of eight such rooms in the building. There is a common kitchen (each room has its own refrig and cupboard), dining room, play room, computer room, a couple of lounges and two washers and dryers. There are also cool play areas outside with equipment and toys. We use punch codes to get into the facility, building, and room, so no need for keys. Volunteer foster grandparents bring in soup twice a week for supper and bake cookies. The kitchen is fully applianced and stocked with dishes, etc. We are responsible for our own meals, cleaning up, and watching our children when they are in the common areas. The rules are strictly enforced.

The cost for staying at Ronald McDonald in Sacramento is $20 a night, if a family can afford it. Many of the expenses of the house are underwritten by McDonalds and other corporate sponsors. We feel grateful to be able to stay here; it's much better than a hotel. As I said, maybe we should run the world more like a Ronald McDonald house.
Above, Widnerlande and Luke with Ronald in Sacramento

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Widnerlande Will Have Surgery!

We found out today that, without a doubt, Widnerlande needs surgery. Part of her heart is as big as an adult size heart, and as John says, physically but not metaphorically speaking, "A big heart is a bad heart." The hole between the lower chambers of her heart needs to be patched or she will run into big problems as she grows.

Widnerlande's surgery is scheduled for the day after tomorrow. I will post updates, but in the meantime, I will leave you with a piece that ran this past Saturday in the Peoria Journal Star.

Haitian girl finally makes it to the U.S. for surgery.

Journal Star
Posted Jan 14, 2011 @ 10:58 PM
Last update Jan 14, 2011 @ 11:59 PM

Widnerlande sat at the kitchen table Friday afternoon, smiling and singing to a Barbie doll, oblivious to the harsher details of her biography as told by the adults in the room.

She is 7, her name sounds a little like Gwendolyn. Dr. John Carroll, founder of Haitian Hearts, met her and her mother six years ago when he examined her at a clinic just north of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. He heard a loud murmur in her heart during the exam.

Ever since, he's been trying to get her to the United States to repair the small hole in the wall of the lower chambers of her heart. Finally, she's sitting at a table in his West Peoria home.

Widnerlande Jean Louis arrived in Peoria on Wednesday, the anniversary of the deadly earthquake in homeland. The Carrolls will take her to California on Sunday for an evaluation and, probably, heart surgery.

"She has survived almost everything she can survive," Carroll said.

Somewhere between three hurricanes and a tropical storm in 2008, her medical records were destroyed. Her family has been living in a hut of rock and mud since the earthquake, which left upwards of 300,000 dead and millions displaced. Her village happens to be located on the river at the epicenter of a deadly cholera outbreak, unseen in Haiti in 200 years.

This does not include several moves, food riots, political unrest, the bureaucratic wrangle of getting a visa for a Haitian child, or her mother's decision to place, then remove her from an orphanage after she realized the orphanage was as poor as she was.

Widnerlande's mother managed to stay in contact with Dr. Carroll. His initial plans to bring her to the United States fell through because of the earthquake.

"A lot of the patients John sees are almost self-selected," Maria King Carroll said. "They're the ones whose parents don't give up."

In the past 15 years, Haitian Hearts has brought more than 140 young Haitians to the United States for medical care. Most were heart surgeries and, originally, almost all of them were performed at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria. Since 2003 - after Dr. Carroll and St. Francis, his former employer, split over the program - about 80 of those surgeries have been performed at medical centers in 10 different states, from Florida to New Hampshire.

Volunteer doctors at Sutter Children's Center in Sacramento will do the evaluations and perform Widnerlande's surgery.

Though Haitian Hearts has less of a medical presence in central Illinois, many local residents still support the program with donations and other services. One woman dropped off a large bag of clothes for Widnerlande on Thursday morning. Others donated toys and, of course, money.

"Her case epitomizes Haiti a little bit," Maria King Carroll said. "We met her before the hurricanes, before the earthquake, before the cholera. There's just always obstacles to get something accomplished."

Pam Adams can be reached at 686-3245 or
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