Monday, December 26, 2005

Merry Christmas, Jackson Jean-Baptiste:

Big things often start with the most happenstance of incidents. Or at least they seem to be happenstance. Thursday evening we were at our usual position in the dining area in front of the computer. Our main worries were keeping Jackson alive and finding a hospital for him in the States. We and Haitian Hearts supporters at home were working on contacts with hospitals in
Minnesota, Connecticut, New York, Alabama, Colorado, Peoria, Bloomington, and Joliet, Illinois. But so far, it was nada, with the shutdown for Christmas fast approaching.

A short man with grey hair and bright, kind, blue eyes pulled up a chair to talk with John. His name is Father Tom Hagan, and he runs an organization called Hands Together, which schools and feeds thousands of children in Cité Soleil and has many other anti-poverty projects in Haiti. Father is one of the few white people whom the gangs allow to pass back and forth through the
treacherous slum. He has been in Haiti for ten years. Father arises at 4:30 every morning to say Mass for the Missionaries of Charity, at their home for abandoned and dying children, where we go to Sunday church. This Thursday before Christmas, Father had brought a group to our place for a special evening meal.

We told Father about the plight of Jackson Jean-Baptiste. He offered to call his friend, U.S. Senator Mike DeWine, a Republican from Ohio. Senator DeWine is the Senate expert in Haiti, having taken a special interest in the country after several visits. He helps support the work of Father Hagan.

Before 9 am the next day, we had an e-mail from one of the Senator’s assistants, Barbara, who said they had been trying to call John’s Haitian cell phone, but had been unable to get through. She left DeWine’s cell and home phone numbers. Later that evening, John called the home phone. Senator DeWine answered, and John explained Jackson’s situation to him. “He is such a nice guy,” remarked John after the call, which kept cutting in and out. “He’s going to call a hospital and tell them about about Jackson.”

The next morning, again before 9 am, we had another e-mail from Barbara, saying that Cleveland Clinic had accepted Jackson! Could this be true--Jackson accepted by one of the best medical centers in the United States? Barbara left the phone number and e-mail of Jeanne, Dr. Cosgrove’s assistant. John immediately called her and made arrangements to e-mail detailed information on Jackson’s condition.

While John was on the phone, I e-mailed the Senator’s office our thanks and also explained another little dilemma we needed help with: Jackson has a Haitian passport, but it expires in May 2006. In order to grant a visa, the U.S. consulate requires that the Haitian passport be good for at least six months; Jackson’s passport misses this deadline by a month. We were in the process of obtaining Jackson a new passport, but in Haiti, these things take time. Was there anything the Senator’s office could do to waive this requirement?

With our first round of e-mailing done for the day, we headed out to run some errands. While we were out, John’s cell phone rang. It was Ingrid from the U.S. consulate’s office asking if we could get to the Haitian immigration department as they would issue Jackson a new passport immediately. We were then to go to the U.S. consulate, and they would have the visa for us. The only problem was that it was 2:20 pm, and the consulate was closing at 3 pm—not enough time to pick up Jackson’s expiring passport and make it through the holiday traffic, to both places by three. After numerous phone calls, we arranged to do this on Tuesday morning.

The last phone call came from the office of U.S. Ambassador Tim Carney. He was concerned because he had heard that we were staying on Delmas 31. “We don’t stay there,” said John, “But we do work there.” “That’s a dangerous area,” said the Ambassador’s assistant. “The Ambassador wants to encourage you to be vigilant.” We thanked him for his concern.

Still hardly believing that Jackson was truly accepted, we trudged back to our lodgings, where, of course, the internet service was down. We were afraid to tell Jackson that we had found a hospital until we saw written confirmation from Cleveland Clinic. Years of working in Haiti makes one suspicious of good news. Upon noticing our concerned faces, the owner offered us the use of his computer, which was receiving the on line connection. In John’s mailbox was
the most beautiful attachment ever: a letter from Cleveland Clinic, saying
that they would provide surgery and medical care for Jackson at no cost!

Jackson was with us when we read the letter. He said, “Tanks.”

We also say thanks to a lot of people: Father Tom Hagan for all his work in Haiti and for caring enough to make the call on behalf of Jackson; Senator Mike DeWine for putting the influence of the most powerful country on earth to work for a poor Haitian youth at the request of people who aren’t even his constituents; U.S. Ambassador Carney for responding to Senator DeWine’s
request and the staff of the embassy and consulate for expediting Jackson’s visa; the head of Haitian immigrations who is willing to meet us at 7:30 Tuesday morning to give Jackson a new passport; Dr. Cosgrove and all the wonderful people at Cleveland Clinic, who by accepting Jackson are truly living their motto, "Every life deserves world class care," the Haitian Hearts
supporters at home who took Jackson’s cause as their own and phoned up a storm to try to find him a hospital; our family and friends who prayed and sent encouraging messages to us. We couldn’t do any of this without you.

Thanks to John, who didn’t hesitate in keeping Jackson with us in our room, who daily examined him, adjusted his meds, worried over him, and who epitomizes Winston Churchill’s great quote, “Never, never, never give up.”

And most of all to thanks be to God, Who sent us His Son, a baby born to poor parents, who was in all worldly ways powerless.

If all goes well, we will be on a plane to Cleveland on Tuesday afternoon.

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