Monday, December 12, 2005

Suze and the Power of Prayer:

Suze was one of three Haitian Hearts patients who stopped by to see us yesterday. She is one of my favorites, in part because John and I hosted her for two weeks in November 2004 before she had her mitral valve replaced at Provena St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet. But, mainly, I like her so much because she has an intelligent grace that transcends class and nationality.

I have a vivid memory of this past February when John and I took Suze and Katia to O’Hare in the middle of the night for their return flight home. As we scrambled to get them to the gate in wheelchairs, Suze and Katia clutched pink, heart-shaped pillows that the hospital had given them. “Thank you so much for everything you’ve done for us,” they kept repeating. I was pained by their gratitude as I knew we were sending them back to hell on earth, albeit with much healthier hearts.

Yesterday, Suze looked wonderful. She’s put on some good weight, her heart sounds great, and her blood pressure is normal. We re-supplied her with warfarin, a blood thinner she will need to take for the rest of her life to keep clots from forming on her artificial St. Jude’s valve, which Dr. Bryan Foy so expertly installed last December.

I was allowed to witness this maestro of the operating room work his medical magic on Suze. Open heart surgery is a miracle to behold. The heart was stopped. Dr. Foy removed the mitral valve, trashed by rheumatic fever, and sewed in the St. Jude’s valve. He coordinated a team of nurses and specialists—El Capitan, they call him—who operated the bypass machine, which oxygenated Suze’s blood while her heart was stopped, suctioned the blood from the operating field to keep it visible, regulated the amount of drugs she was given to keep her under, and had at the ready the instruments he needed to do his delicate work.

When they opened Suze’s chest, which Dr. Foy did with a small electric saw, her heart ballooned out of her chest cavity in a way that even a layperson like me could tell wasn’t usual. Her heart was huge—“her right ventricle is as big as a room”—probably four times the normal size. “A big heart is a bad heart,” John always tells me, as the sick heart grows large to compensate for its poor function. In Suze’s case, it also caused fluid to back up throughout her body, particularly in her abdominal organs. The new valve was so effective that before Dr. Foy’s nurses began closing Suze up, her liver had already shrunk in size.

One of the tensest moments of the surgery for me came when it was time to re-start Suze’s heart. Dr. Foy, shocked it once with metal paddles—no beat, twice—no beat, multiple times—no beat. “C’mon baby, beat,” he urged it. Finally, on I forget which attempt, her heart lurched into action and began its rhythmic pumping, the sound most associated with being alive.

Yesterday Suze came to see us after attending Mass at the Missionaries of Charity orphanage. She is a devout Catholic. She wore a skirt, black blouse, silver cross, and on her right wrist, a yellow Lance Armstrong “Live Strong” bracelet. We talked about Haiti and how bad things are. U.N forces are present in Carrefour, the slum adjacent to Port-au-Prince where Suze lives, but she doesn’t think they do much, other than get girls pregnant. “They don’t care if Haitians are shooting at other Haitians,” she said.

We discussed the rash of kidnappings that is sweeping Haiti this year. “It’s not just white people,” she said. “One of my friends who was carrying $600 U.S. for her father’s prostate surgery was kidnapped on Airport Road.” Her friend hid the money in her bra, and the kidnappers never found it. “If they had found the money, they would have taken it and killed her,” she said. But her friend’s priest raised funds for her ransom. She was released, the kidnappers gave her $50 Haitian, and she rode on a motorcycle out of Cité Soleil, the most dangerous place in Haiti, where she was held. Her father went on to have successful prostate surgery, so all’s well that end’s well.

As we continued to talk, I told Suze that John and I walk around some of the streets of Haiti. “Why don’t you think that we’ve been kidnapped?” I asked her. It is a question I often wonder about. Why have others been kidnapped and not us? “Do you think we will?” I continued. Suze looked at me, shook her head, and with certainty replied, “No, you won’t. Because I always pray for you.”

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