Sunday, December 21, 2008

"Where there is great love, there are always miracles."

Heurese had successful heart surgery at Cleveland Clinic on Tuesday. She had her faulty aortic valve replaced with an artificial one and an existing patch, which covers a hole in her heart, was reinforced.

There are so many factors in Heurese getting this surgery that can only be described as miraculous. Here's one of them.

Heurese has been a Haitian Hearts patient since 2001, when she first came to the United States for surgery. Since then, my husband John has been bringing her medicines and checking on her a few times a year. However, because of a family situation, he hadn't been to Haiti at all this year until November.

Sometime this summer a young man named Frandy, who is a healthy Haitian Hearts patient and who helps us with certain tasks in Haiti, entered a cybercafe in Carrefour, a huge, poor, suburban slum (if that's not an oxymoron) of Port-au-Prince. Frandy needed to get in touch with John about a patient, but he didn't have any money to buy minutes. So he yelled out as he entered the cafe, "Does anyone have a couple of minutes I can use for an emergency e-mail?" A young man sitting at one of the computers raised his hand. Frandy sat down and began typing out his message to Dr. John.

When the young man saw who Frandy was writing, he said to Frandy, "Do you know Dr. John Carroll?" Frandy responded yes. Well, it turns out that this young man was Heurese's brother, and he wanted to get in touch with Dr. John himself because his sister was very sick.

As Frandy later discovered, the brother wasn't exaggerating. Heurese was at home, too weak to walk, having sent her two young children to live with relatives. With Frandy's help, John was able to get Heurese medicines that stabilized her situation. Then later, she went to Providence Guest House in Port-au-Prince to rest and receive good nutrition until her trip to the United States.

An encounter at a cybercafe that strains the boundaries of coincidence was necessary to the chain of events that led Heurese back to the United States for life-saving heart surgery. Maybe we shouldn't be surprised. As Willa Cather said, "Where there is great love, there are always miracles."

Heurese pictured above in her home in Carrefour.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Live From Haiti: A Recap

I started Live from Haiti three years ago. My husband John and I were spending several months each year in Haiti, and rather than just keep a journal, I thought I'd blog about our experiences.

In those three years, we've made several trips to Haiti and spent close to a year there. In that time, I've written about many subjects, including John's work as a doctor, babies being born, orphans, Haitian Hearts patients, adoption, miracles, Father Gerry Jean-Juste, ordinary Haitians, book reviews, funerals, and Cite Soleil.

So how did we get so involved with Haiti? John first went there in 1981 when he was in med school. He had always known that when he became a doctor, he wanted to help poor people. Haiti was it for him; since becoming a doctor, John has spent part of each year in Haiti.

I went to Haiti in 1990 with my church, which had a sister parish in Haiti. I didn't return until 2003, about a year after I met John. Besides all of his working in Haiti, in 1995, John started an organization called Haitian Hearts. In his Haitian clinic work, John kept running across children and young adults with heart problems that could be surgically corrected; however, there is no open heart surgery in Haiti. Haitian Hearts brings these patients to the United States for surgery. One of our patients, 28-year-old Heurese, will have surgery in Ohio next week.

John and I got married in 2004. With the exception of this past year, we have continued to travel regularly to Haiti. I try to help him with his work as a doctor, and we also spend a lot of time on Haitian Hearts--trying to find hospitals for patients and then coordinating the myriad of details it takes to actually bring a Haitian to the United States. In 2006. we took our involvement with Haiti to a new level when we adopted our son Luke from there. He is the joy of our lives.

A family situation has kept us mostly home this past year, but we plan to stay connected with Haiti all of our lives. I'll keep writing, too. Haiti is a place where problems are real, people need help, life is vivid. It is terrible and beautiful at the same time.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Beat Goes On, Even Better

Another miracle happened this week. Miterlande, who could barely walk herself onto the plane in Port-au-Prince a couple of weeks ago (and in fact used a wheelchair to negotiate the airports) had open heart surgery at Provena St. Joseph on Monday. And, boy, was it successful! John drove up to Joliet from Peoria and was in the operating room. Miterlande had a badly damaged mitral valve courtesy of rheumatic fever. To compensate for its lack of function, her heart got huge. As John says and speaking in a strictly physical sense, "A big heart is a bad heart." Medical teams in the United States aren't used to seeing hearts this big, especially in a teenager.

Here are a few numbers to give you an idea of how this surgery has helped Miterlande. Prior to surgery, her cardiac output was 1.9. Once the new artificial St. Jude's valve was in place and before she had even left the OR, this number went up to 5.0, which is in the normal range. Another figure, the oxygen saturation level in her brain, or the amount of oxygen that was getting to her brain pre-surgery was 20 ("Beyond bad," said John.) After surgery and again while she was still in the OR, this figure improved to the mid-50's.

The good nurses at the hospital had Miterlande sitting up the day after surgery and on Wednesday, she was walking. Her heart is much, much happier now and this increased function improves all of her bodily systems.

I called this a miracle, and I think it is. First of all, open heart surgery is a medical miracle. I mean, they stop the heart! Then they fix the problem while the bypass machine oxygenates and circulates the blood. Then they restart the heart. It's unbelievable, when you stop and think about it.

The second part of the miracle is that Miterlande, a 16-year-old from a poor family who lives in Verette, a village two hours north of Port-au-Prince in the Artibonite Valley, where the hurricanes destroyed her mother's garden, a family that has no electricity, no running water, no computer, no car actually came to the United States, the richest country in the history of the world to have this technologically advanced surgery.

We at Haitian Hearts want to work toward a world where people like Miterlande get the health care they need without it taking a miracle. Because it shouldn't.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What to do? What to do?

A few posts back, I described some of the many problems facing Haiti that were compounded by the four hurricanes that hit the island nation. A commentator quite reasonably asked, "How about offering some solutions?" At the talk John and I gave three weeks ago, a sister asked basically the same question: "What can we do?"

Yes, it's a lot easier to detail Haiti's problem's than it is to figure out what to do about them. Sometimes I'm a little afraid by describing the many hardships in Haiti so often and so thoroughly, I will scare off people. They will shake their heads and say, "The problems are too big. There's nothing I can do." I've heard people say that Haiti is hopeless.

Well, Barack Obama had a great line in the speech he gave election night: ". . . while we breathe, we hope." Despite their hard lives, Haitians do have hope for themselves. Those of us who've had the opportunity to go to Haiti, to meet Haitians, and in some maybe small way, become part of their lives know that they are special. I'm trying to think of how to describe their specialness and all I can come up with is a bunch of cliches: hard working, hospitable, persistent, love of laughter and song, the desire to better their lives. The end result is that, as one fellow traveler put it, when you go to Haiti, you leave part of your heart there, and you can only get it back when you return to Haiti.

But you don't have to travel to Haiti to make a difference. Let me list some things that you can do.

1. Educate yourself. There is lots of stuff on line. Check out Bob Corbett's website. I will write a post about Bob's list serve soon. If you want to start with one book, I would recommend Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. I believe that there are links between our political and economic policies and habits and some of the tragedy in Haiti. This is worth learning about.

2. Examine your life. I believe that there is a connection between how we in the developed world live and how those in poor countries live. (Check out Paul Farmer's The Uses of Haiti for more evidence). We can all make changes (and the current economic situation may force us to) in our lives that will help not only the poor of the world, but also ourselves. Some examples: recycling, living on less and upping our charitable contributions, becoming more conscious of our choices and how they affect our communities and our happiness levels.

3. Give of your time, talent, and treasure. Giving money is an obvious way to help. I like to have some kind of personal connection to the places I give money. Here are some organizations to consider if you want to help Haiti.

The What If Foundation. This wonderful organization runs a feeding program and other programs for the children of St. Clare's parish. We have witnessed this feeding program in action; the children get good meals with lots of protein.

Partners in Health.This is the organization started and run by Dr. Paul Farmer, who has changed the way that poor people in the developing world with HIV-AIDS are treated. Which is to say, they receive treatment.

The Daughters of Charity. This international order has 32 sisters in Haiti who run feeding programs, schools, and health clinics. My husband John frequently works in their clinics and, we see the good work they do.

Hands Helping Haiti (H30). This small, effective organization works to educate children in Haiti. Education is definitely one of the keys to solving Haiti's problems.

These are just a few of the groups that do wonderful work in Haiti. If you are interested in giving money to help Haiti, I encourage you to check out their websites.

Solving the problems of Haiti so that fewer children die will take a long time. But that's no reason not to start now.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Today, Thanksgiving Day, 29-year-old Heureuse, a mother of two young children will be on a plane from Port-au-Prince to the United States, where she will have heart surgery at Cleveland Clinic. As Heureuse has been sick for a couple of years, this is indeed something to be grateful for. We give thanks for her doctors, nurses, host family, helpers in Haiti, medical technology, and most of all for the grace of God, which animates all good things.

Many of Heureuse's fellow Haitians aren't as fortunate today. Below is a letter written by my friend Tonya Sneed. It was published in the Peoria Journal Star on November 21, 2008 and is posted here with her permission. May we all continue to examine our lives, question our government's policies, and work hard to alleviate the awful suffering of many of our brothers and sisters.

On Thanksgiving, while Americans raise their cholesterol feasting on hormone-fed turkeys raised in horrendous conditions, another atrocity is taking place. Children in Baie d'Orange, Haiti, are starving.
It's official that at least 26 children have died from severe malnutrition, a direct result of the four tropical storms and hurricanes that ravaged Haiti in August and September.
Their deaths are connected to us in ways too numerous to count. As one of many examples, consider that the U.S. government has in recent years "liberalized" Haiti's trade. Just a few decades ago, almost all the rice purchased and sold in Haiti was grown there. Now more than 80 percent of the rice purchased and sold in Haiti was grown in the U.S. Through the dumping of our heavily subsidized rice into their market, we have destroyed Haiti's food security and have run an untold number of peasant farmers out of business.
In short, we have made Haitians more hungry, not less, and have forced them to rely on the whims of the international markets.
Consider global warming. The experts agree that global warming won't necessarily cause more hurricanes, but the hurricanes themselves will come with greater intensity. That seems to be the case. My friends in Jacmel, near Baie d'Orange, have never seen such devastation. It's a cruel irony that the poorest of the poor, who don't eat much meat and who don't drive cars - things that contribute substantially to global warming - are the ones who are suffering the most as a result of the changes in global temperatures.
Consider the elephant in the room: our despicable use of public funds. We spend more than $1 billion every day on the wars and the Pentagon's budget, and yet give Haiti pennies in aid. If we could take one day off from this insanity, no one would need to starve. A billion dollars would make all the difference in the world to the people of Baie d'Orange and to all of Haiti.
But there isn't any profit for Blackwater, KBR and the other war profiteers in feeding Venecia Lonis, a 4-year-old from Baie d'Orange whose tiny body is so miserably emaciated that even our mainstream media could no longer ignore her. Perhaps the only real hope for Venecia is that this Thanksgiving we Americans open our eyes to the harsh and bitter realities of this world, especially those that are of our government's making, and demand change.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Mystery of Haiti

As I mentioned in the last post, John and I made a presentation on Haiti to the Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception, who live just down the street from us on Heading Avenue. The Carroll family has a long-standing relationship with these wonderful sisters. Fifty-one years ago, my husband John attended the convent's preschool. His teacher was Sister Elaine. And would you believe that exactly 50 years later, our son Luke was a student at this preschool? Guess who his teacher was? Yes, the ever youthful and superlative Sister Elaine. John and his brother served Mass at the Sisters' chapel and continued to attend Mass there as adults. I currently volunteer at the Convent and the Sisters provide Communion to my mother-in-law, who is housebound.

Earlier this year, we applied for and received a grant from the Sisters' Little Portion Grant Fund. On John's trip to Haiti last week, we used the $1,500 grant to pay for food, medicines, vaccinations, and doctor visits for poor people who go to a clinic outside of Port-au-Prince run by the Daughters of Charity.
After the Sisters awarded us the grant, they invited us to speak when their congregation met last week. We had a really good time giving the presentation. We can talk about Haiti all day, and the Sisters were such a good audience; they were rapt and asked lots of good questions. They've inspired us to try to give our talk to other groups.

One of the good questions a Sister, who had been to Haiti, asked was, "Isn't it difficult to know the truth about Haiti?" The short answer is yes, especially for non-Haitians. Haiti is such a complex place: Creole and French languages, the widespread and extreme poverty and a few very rich families, the history of 64 different classifications based on skin color, voodoo and Christianity, poor treatment by the world of nations and internal corruption, gentleness and cruelty, joblessness and a good work ethic are all intertwined together in a way that reminds me of what Winston Churchill said about Russia: Haiti "is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." There are many seeming contraditions about the place and it is hard to sort them out, interpret them. I think one of the keys to understanding Haiti is knowing that inhuman deprivation does terrible things in all kinds of way.

If you're interested in the complexity of Haiti and how that applies to the current situation, check out the following short story, "Ghosts," by Haitian-American writer Edwidge Dandicat

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Haitian Reflection

John and I gave a presentation to the Heading Avenue Franciscan Sisters last Sunday. Following is a little reflection that we ended the program with.

This is Haiti

And so is this.

Life in Haiti is sometimes the same as here.

But often, it is different.

We here in the United States are so fortunate in the material sense.

We live in an orderly world with building codes and paved roads.

And plenty of doctors.

We have regular meals, plans, goals, and schedules.

We can begin to think that how we live is just the way the world is.

In Haiti, many parts of life are different. It is dirty and smells.

And too many children


When there is no electricity, schedules are set by the rising and setting sun.

Haitians hopes for the future

Are in some ways the same as ours

And in some ways different.

To get through the day.

To feed their children.

And send them to school.

To work hard so that life might be a little bit better for them and their children.

And to smile.

In the lack of structure, people hear and see God more.

They aren’t caught up as much in their own plans and in many ways have less control over their lives.

“Give us this day our daily bread,” is a prayer Haitians understand very well.

Perhaps they will be more interested in talking with a friend, singing a song, and praising God for any little blessing.

I’m fearful that in talking like this, we will be tempted to say, “In their poverty,

They really are happy.

But the poverty exacts

A terrible price.

We do have much to learn from the poor people of the world. In living in such dire circumstances, they realize what is important.

Like how great God is.

They realize what is important like we would if we were told we had six months to live.

But the poverty exacts a terrible price, a price that the developed world should not tolerate. When we turn out heads, it hurts our souls.

A Polish sister we know runs a health clinic in a very poor area. She has been to the United States and echoes Mother Teresa when she says, “Americans suffer from a poverty of the heart. So what is the solution?

Perhaps a clue can be found in the Haitian motto on the Haitian flag: L’union fait la force. Through unity, strength.

Or to put it another way, we need each other.

She needs your time and talent.

They need your treasure.

All need your prayers.

But we need them too.

To save us from shallowness, self-absorption, and materialism and lots of other causes of sinfulness and unhappiness.

To remind us that the most important thing is how we treat one another. That the Way is both a means and an end. That we are charged with bringing the Kingdom of God to Earth.

To do our part to make the world a beautiful place. For everyone.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Real Story?

I think the way the media reports the news is sensationalistic and not always reflective of reality. (I know; stop the presses). Whenever a major disaster occurs in Haiti—hurricanes, school collapses, political upheaval—the country gets a little bit of ink in the newspaper and a few seconds of time on TV. Of course, this isn’t unique to Haiti. News all over the world is reported in this manner. We seem entranced by disasters while the more fundamental issues that create our world and affect us profoundly go unreported.

So when the school collapse in Haiti was widely reported last week with a death count approaching 90, I wondered the following things: how many children in Haiti died that day of malnutrition or diarrhea? How many died from malaria or typhoid fever? Of tuberculosis or HIV? What are the reasons Haiti is such a poor country? What are the policies and practices that keep them mired in a failed state status? Why don’t many people have access to clean water? How is the foreign aid that goes to Haiti spent? What are the well to do Haitians doing—or not doing—to make Haiti a more humane place? What are the stories of all the people who live in those two room cinder block houses across from the collapsed school?

Where is the reporting on these kinds of questions?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Four years ago, John and I were in Haiti during the U.S. presidential election. Most Haitians we asked were pulling for Kerry. They were also highly knowledgeable, knowing that the electoral votes in Wisconsin were up for grabs. When Kerry wasn't elected, they were stoic; Haitians are used to disappointment.

Well, I wasn't in Haiti yesterday, but I know the general reaction: jubilation. The happiness of having someone who has African roots, like they do, being elected president of their powerful neighbor to the north is a huge cause for celebration. The United States isn't just any country to Haiti; thousands of Haitians have relatives in the U.S., the promised land, who send money back to their poor, trapped relatives. I would bet that per captia, more Haitians have a dream of coming to America than people from any other country in the world.

And then there's this: the president of the United States often has a more profound affect on the lives of non-Americans than he does Americans. Just ask the Iraqis. Or the Haitians.

For example, in the last 15 years, the Haitians saw one American president, Bill Clinton, restore to office the democratically elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide and another American president George W. Bush, depose the democratically elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. When you study Haitian history, you realize that it's impossible to overestimate the influence, if not outright control, the the United States has over Haitians politics and governance. That is, when we pay attention or care one way or another at all.

So the hopes and promise that Obama represent are not just for Americans. The people of Haiti have a stake in these dreams too.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Adoption: Part II

I have something in common with the person who left the above comment. For 13 years, I worked for Catholic Charities, a child welfare agency, in the Diocese of Peoria. I spent five of these years as a special needs adoption worker.

What does a special needs adoption worker do? Generally speaking, we work to find adoptive homes for children in the foster care system who have become available for adoption because their birth parents' parental rights have been terminated. In my experience, 85 percent of the time the existing foster parents wanted to adopt the child, which was a good thing. In the remaining situations, we worked to find homes to adopt children who were often older, part of a sibling group, or had some kind of special need (behavioral, medical, educational, etc.). As you might imagine, this could be a challenge. There are lots of people in the United States who want to adopt healthy white infants or toddlers. That isn't always the case for older children.

When people would call to inquire about adoption, they generally fell into two camps: people who were looking for a baby or young chilld (possibly these inquirers couldn't have any biological children) and those--far fewer--who were open to adopting older children or more than one. Again generally speaking, I think it's the first group of people who pursue international adoption. I wish there was more publicity around the children in the United States who are waiting for adoptive homes. After safety, permanance is the next priority in a child's living circumstance. Children who wait, whether they are in foster homes in the United States or orphanages in other countries, long for the permanence of a loving home and forever parents.

When people are thinking about adopting a child, it's important for them to realistically consider their motivations, skills, and the kind of child they think they are best able to parent. After they have done this, they should realize that the most important consideration is what will be best for the child. It's not so much about finding the perfect child for a family as it is finding a capable, loving family for a child. The child's, not the family's, needs must be foremost.

If this sounds arrogant, I don't mean it to be. I know from my work in child welfare that, for lots of reasons, my husband and I would not be good candidates for adopting an older child or more than one child. Which raises the question, "How did you decide to adopt your child?"

Like many ventures, it seemed as if Providence was leading the way. John and I hadn't even been married a year when we met the boy who would become our son. Prior to meeting him, we hadn't talked about adopting. As far as becoming biological parents, we were both older when we married and knew that having biological children wasn't too likely. John posed the question about adopting Luke shortly after I met him. We talked for several weeks about whether we would be good parents for this little boy. We had many strengths: financial resources, the maturity that age brings (this can also be a weakness), accepting immediate and extended families, appreciation and knowledge of Haiti, a strong faith foundation, and ultimately, the belief that God was calling us to be parents to this little boy. We knew that becoming parents would mean big and often challenging changes in our lives, especially as it pertained to our travel to Haiti and the other freedoms that being childless afforded us. However, in the end, it wasn't a difficult decision.

As I mentioned earlier, our son's biological family is not known to us. I don't think there is a day that goes by that I don't think of his mother and father--what they are like, what they are doing now, how they wonder about Luke. Luke is only five, but he understands that he was in another mommy's tummy--his Haitian mommy. I would love for Luke's Haitian parents to see him. and for him to know them. It is a big wish of mine that somehow, some way, we will meet Luke's Haitian family this side of eternity.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Adoption: Part I

I do work for the Dept. of Social Services..I think it should be difficult to adopt from foreign countries.. especially when there are neglected and needy children in the USA. I know the process can be difficult in either case. Best of luck. and thanks for bringing attention to need of Haiti.

The above comment was made in response to this post, detailing the burdensome process we went through to adopt our son from Haiti. I agree with the person who made the comment, that people wanting to adopt children from other countries or from the United States should be checked out thoroughly. Children--especially children who aren't living with their biological parents--are very vulnerable and their safety must be the first priority. The process also must ensure that the biological parents of these children weren't deceived or paid money to offer their children for adoption.

The United States has procedures in place to safeguard the integrity of the process. My husband and I had to be fingerprinted and undergo a criminal background check. Actually, we did this three times: in our home state of Illinois when we began the process; at the U.S. consulate in Port-au-Prince two months before this first set of fingerprints was going to expire; and a couple of months later in Miami after we discovered that the U.S. consulate in Haiti lost our fingerprint cards. We were also interviewed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Port-au-Prince. Had our son's biological parents been known, they also would have been interviewed by USCIS to ensure that no fraud had been committed.

While the United States government wasn't blameless in delaying the adoption, most of the fault lies at the feet of the Haitian government. I won't bore you will all the stories of bureaucratic ineptitude. I cycled between being upset about the delays and what they meant for us and more importantly for all of the children who were waiting in orphanages (and all the children who were turned away from these orphanages because they were full) and stoicism, thinking about how difficult it must be for people in a poor, black country to see all these relatively wealthy white people swoop in and "take" their children.

I have something in common with the person who left the above comment. For 13 years, I worked for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Peoria. I spent five of these years as a special needs adoption worker. . . to be continued in the next post.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Note to People Who Have Left Comments

I used to receive e-mail alerts when someone left a comment on this blog. I changed my e-mail a couple of months ago and even though I changed it on my blog too, the alerts stopped coming. So I apologize to those of you who have left comments. I appreciate your reading my blog and that you take the time to leave a comment.

The comments are good, and they have provoked ideas for future posts. Stay tuned.

Thanks to everyone who reads LivefromHaiti.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I don't know anyone like my husband John. He perseveres to get expensive help in the United States for poor Haitians dying from heart defects and disease in Haiti. Actually, perseveres is putting it lightly. It's more like he's an inexorable force that can't be stopped (to be redundant about things). Miterlande is a poor Haitian girl who contracted strep throat, which went untreated and developed into rheumatic fever, seriously damaging her heart valves. She is only 16. She has no money, no contacts and lives in a country with little to no medical care for its poorer members. Poor people in the developing world who need heart surgery aren't showing up on very many people's radar. Think about the impossibility of Miterlande, who in material terms, has nothing coming to the United States for heart surgery.

But that's exactly what's happening for Miterlande. She and her sister visited John more than two years ago. He examined Miterande and sent her to get an echocardiogram in Port-au-Prince. He returned home with a videocassette of the echocardiogram. Over the past almost two years, due to family circumstances, John has probably spent less time in Haiti than he has since he started going in 1981--only three weeks total. I have to tell you, that when a person returns to the United States from Haiti, it is all too easy to forget about the Haitians who are hoping for your help. I know this because I have done it. And even when you don't forget, the obstacles to getting state-of-the-art surgical medical care for this poor person, who is hoping against hope, that you won't forget about her, that you will try, are beyond daunting. John doesn't forget and he isn't daunted. He sends out e-mails, calls people, cajoles health care providers. Time and time again, he convinces doctors and even more challengingly, medical centers to accept patients.

This time it was Miterlande who was the beneficiary of this effort and conscience. Dr. Bryan Foy and Provena St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, Illinois have accepted Miterande. She is Haitian Hearts patient number 134. Not that we're counting or anything. Each one of these patients are precious and unique. They have God-given gifts that the world is deprived of when they die too soon. We rejoice with Miterlande and her family that she will get the opportunity--that should be, that is a right--to get the health care she badly needs.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace and Haiti

What is the link between David Foster Wallace and Haiti? Well, for me, only that I planned to one day read his magnum opus, "Infinite Jest" in Haiti. I figured Port-au-Prince would be the perfect place to tackle this sprawling, diversionary, real yet unreal novel, Haiti's capital knowing something about these things as well. I thought I would get the chance to do this while the author was still alive, Wallace being a year younger than me. But, alas, this part of the plan was not to be as Walllace committed suicide last week.

Suicide seems to run counter to everything human from the instinct to stay alive to the ability to appreciate the beauty of a Monet painting to the universal experience of loving another person. For all the material comforts of the United States and all the horrible deprivation of Haiti, I believe the suicide rate in the States is much higher than in Haiti. In fact, I've never heard of a Haitian committing suicide. Haitians will do risky things like sail in structures that hardly qualify as boats, but they take these risks for a better shot at life not because they want to die.

Perhaps Wallace left a clue in a 1996 interview he gave with the Chicago Tribune after the publication of Infinite Jest. He says of the success that followed his earlier books,

"In a weird way it seemed like there was something very American about what was going on, that things were getting better and better for me in terms of all the stuff I thought I wanted, and I was getting unhappier and unhappier," he said.

Sister L, a Polish nun, who works near Port-au-Prince, has a term for this: poverty of the heart. She has a job running a clinic and feeding program for some of the poorest people in the world. But she knows there is a deeper kind of poverty, a poverty that is pervasive in the United States. I think the solution for both kinds of poverty is for people in the United States and people in Haiti to spend more time together.

I think about the children who lost their lives to the hurricane pictured in the previous post: they wanted to live. What would they say to David Foster Wallace as his spirit joined theirs? Maybe something like, "We wish you would have wanted to live too."

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Most everyone has heard about the four hurricanes that have hit Haiti in varying spots. And probably a lot of people have heard about the devastation. Haiti is truly the Job of countries. You don't think it can get worse--awful poverty to begin with, recently skyrocketing prices for food, American politicians and bureaucrats who hold up aid, corrupt and incompetent Haitian officials --and now this: destructive hurricanes on an island with little topsoil to absorb the water and little capacity to help people before or after the storms.

What you get are shown in the pictures at the end of the post. Is there anything in the world more heartbreaking then pictures of children who have died? These children died near Cabaret, a village outside of Port-au-Prince. A Haitian-American friend sent them saying, "Don't mean to shock too much, but I wanted to share my horror." As an allegedly civilized nation and world, shouldn't we be moving heaven and earth to prevent children from dying?

If you've been feeling sorry for yourself or worrying about your problems like I have been lately, at the least these pictures should put things in perspective. Of course, this alone won't help the children of Haiti, but maybe it will lead to room in our lives for action.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

As I Lay Dying

Heurese is dying in Port-au-Prince. She lays in her hovel, alone, her two young children staying with friends and relatives. She grows weaker each day. It is hard to move, hard to eat, hard to breathe.

We know Heurese because she is a Haitian Hearts patient. Seven years ago, she came to Peoria and had her damaged aortic valve repaired. At some point in her life Heurese had rheumatic fever--probably due to untreated strep throat--and the disease ravaged her valve. But now the repair has run its course; Heurese needs an artificial valve.

Unfortunately, we have no hospital that will accept Heurese. Without surgery, she will soon die.

There are undoubtably hundreds of thousands of people in developing countries who will die today of preventable or correctable diseases. We know this and in the abstract, we feel bad about it. But it makes a huge difference when you actually know one of these people. Heurese spent five months in Peoria. We have seen her many times on our trips to Haiti. We know her quiet gracefulness. We know her regal demeanor with her high cheekbones and beautiful skin. We know how she manages to dress stylishly on next to no money. We know her chubby children whom her first surgery made possible. And, so, we feel desperate that she is dying. We continue to try to find a hospital to treat her. In the absence of this, we try to find people in Port-au-Prince who will care for her in her last days.

So far, the only person who has come through for Heurese is Frandy, another Haitian Hearts patient. Frandy is in good health now. He is working hard in school with hopes to attend college in the United States. He has little money, but he is doing what he can to help Heurese, bringing her medicines and taking her to the hospital. He reports to us as to how Heurese is doing.

Why aren't there more people who care about Heurese? Why, as my husband John asks, is it so hard to save a person's life?
Above, Heurese with her daughter.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Voice From Haiti

This is a post from 19-year-old Frandy Dejean. Three years ago, Frandy came to St. Louis where he stayed for two months and received medical care. Frandy lives in Carrefour, a very poor suburb of Port-au-Prince. He and his mother and his two brothers live in a two room house with no bathroom or running water. None of them have jobs. Frandy attends school where he is working very hard. He hopes to pass the Haitian equivalent of high school and an English proficiency test because his dream is to attend college in the United States. Frandy speaks Creole, French, English, and Spanish. No one in his family has a job; the hopes of his family rest in Frandy.

This is a bad moment for the Haitians. Most of the Haitians are hungry.

Haiti needs the world to keep it from starving. Education is unaccessible for thousands children.I think we should put hands together to help those who are in problems. (Education and medical care, food) are important to save thousands people here. Once the children find education, they may take decision for their own lives after recieving instruction.

We should struggle against violence in the slums here by helping the poor children to recieve education. Haiti needs school for the kids in all zones such as Cite soleil, Bel-Aire, Martissant and Raboto (Gonaives), Carrefour etc. We are living in Technology and it requires school to catch a better life, we can not stay in a world where most of the children don't have oportunity to go to school and to eat.

The Haitian children are calling everyone because they don't want to carry guns anymore and they don't accept to be used by someone as slave.They are malnourished.The Kids in Haiti are saying no to drug and no to prostitution and also no to gun and no to the illegal transportations in Dominican Republic. Stabilisation of Haiti depends on those specific matters "Education, Medical Care and Food.They are asking protection.

It says in the Bible "Anyone who receives the children, receives also the kingdom of God".We should give an eye on them.Thank you very much for your understanding and may God bless you.
Haiti, Dejean Frandy

Monday, May 05, 2008

A Conversation with Jesse Sullivan

This post kicks off an occasional series in which I talk with people who have some involvement in Haiti or the developing world.

Jesse Sullivan is only 23 but he already has had a very accomplished life. He has twice been a valedictorian, founded two organizations and a magazine, and won many awards. A 2007 graduate of Saint Louis University, Jesse majored in theology and international relations and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. He is currently a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar at Oxford University, working on his masters in Global Governance and Diplomacy.

What may be most remarkable about Jesse, though, are not his accomplishments, but the concerns toward which he has chosen to devote his time and talent: the developing world and social justice. What was his inspiration? "I looked up to my dad's cousin Johnny," Jesse said. For the past 25 years, John Carroll, a physician from Peoria, Illinois, has spent months each year working in clinics and hospitals in Haiti, the impoverished island nation only 600 miles from Miami. [editor's note: John Carroll is my husband the subject of many of the posts on Live from Haiti] "I thought, "What I want to do is what Johnny's doing--set up clinics in poor countries.'" In high school in St. Petersburg, Illinois, Jesse was valedictorian of his class and also did mentoring. "Faith was a big part of my life. I felt called to do something with God."

Jesse's interest in practicing medicine in developing countries led him to be accepted to SLU's pre-med program and medical school. While in school, Jesse had the opportunity to spend five months working in El Salvador as a researcher, counselor, interpreter, and health clinic worker. In El Salvador, Jesse held a baby who was dying of starvation. It was a profound experience. Jesse writes movingly about this child on his blog

With this first hand experience of the hardship of life in the developing world, Jesse returned to the SLU campus and founded The One World Organization, dedicated to promoting international social justice issues. One of the organization's major functions is publishing a magazine. Jesse also began thinking that he might want to work in the developing world at a broader level than medicine, where people's urgent and immediate needs are addressed, which led him to his current study at Oxford.

Having majored in theology at a Jesuit university, Jesse was exposed to all kinds of thinkers. Father John Sabrino, a Spanish priest and liberation theologist, who lives in El Salvador, has been a major influence in Jesse's philosophy.

"Father Sabrino's experiences with the poor have led him to believe that there is no salvation outside of the poor," said Jesse. "Loving your neighbor in need--that's where Jesus resides, that is how you get close to God." Loving people who are poor often involves speaking up about the truth of injustice said Jesse. But it's not just the wealthy who are saving the poor. "We can be saved by our interactions with the poor," said Jesse. "I knew from my experiences in El Salvador that I was being transformed."

Other writers who have influenced Jesse's thinking include novelist Albert Camus, particularly his book, "The Plague" and his long essay "The Myth of Sisyphus." The works of this writer whose paradoxical thoughts about God are embodied in his statement, "I don't believe in God and I am not an atheist," had the affect of strengthening Jesse's faith.

"Being faced with a challenge you can't overcome is transforming," Said Jesse. "My hope has to be in something greater than myself."

Another Jesuit priest, Anthony de Mello, impressed Jesse with his Eastern-influenced thoughts about detatchment. In a world where everyone seems to be striving for something, de Mello defines happiness where you don't need anything to be happy.

In much the way that Jesse became well versed in theology while at Saint Louis University, he is becoming fluent in the language and theory of politics at Oxford. " I came to SLU and majored in theology hoping to come away with a blueprint on God, but what actually happened was that all my previously held beliefs were just broken apart. I came away with so many more questions than answers. But what it did offer me was the confidence to face people who were adamant or fundamentalist about their beliefs and know that their interpretation is just one among many ways of looking at the question. Basically, I realized that anyone who claimed to have all the answers was probably the one furthest from the actual truth. So in short, I came wanting a blueprint and got the exact opposite. After the intense year of study and learning at Oxford, "I will be able to have a debate about how the world works and I won't be able to be trumped because of lack of knowledge."

Jesse, whose dissertation is entitled, "Just National Interests: Religion's influence on U.S. Foreign Policy towards development," believes we have to build increased human dignity into our foreign policy considerations. Valuing "one life over another doesn't further your own national interests," said Jesse. Joseph Nye, the Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, another influence of Jesse's, talks about how we have to start considering others' interests in the formulation of our own foreign policy.

Jesse's immediate plans after Oxford are to get some more hands on experience in the developing world. He hopes to one day be able to work in areas affecting U.S. foreign policy. Jesse believes transforming change will best come from the bottom up. "It's important to get other people involved at the community level, to establish relationships."

By any measure, Jesse's life has been a huge success. He has accomplished much and yet is aware of how seemingly intractable some of the world's problems are. His experiences have revealed to him the brokenness of the world and also the brokenness inside himself, a brokenness that is a legacy to all of us humans. His faith helps him bridge the gap between the actual and the ideal, a chasm that isn't fully reconciled this side of eternity. But there is much room for improvment. Jesse is using all of his gifts--his intelligence, enthusiasm, work ethic, faith--to prepare himself for an adult life of service to those who often aren't given much weight in foreign policy considerations or as Mother Teresa would call them, "the poorest of the poor." We wish him godspeed on all his journeys.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

International Adoption

This is an essay I wrote in November 2006 while in Haiti, awaiting the completion of our son's adoption. I submitted it a couple places, but it wasn't accepted. Yet another great reason I started this blog. . . the joys of self-publication!

The piece is a little dated, but my reasons for writing it remain.

My husband and I are in the poverty-wracked, Caribbean-island nation of Haiti, where we’ve spent the last five months waiting for the adoption of our three-year-old son to finalize. During this time, the media has thoroughly reported the Madonna-adopting-an-African-child saga. Talk about a collision of two worlds. Madonna’s ersatz celebrity world intersecting with the brutally real life of a poor, illiterate, African farmer highlights both the bizarre nature of existence and also important considerations regarding international adoption. Some of these considerations we’ve faced in our own adoption

As I can tell you, and as even Madonna confirmed, despite her superstar status, there is nothing quick and easy about international adoption. We started the process 18 months ago, assembling a 119 page dossier consisting of a home study, criminal background checks, reference letters, financial documents, physicals, psychological reports, and other legal papers which had to be notarized, authenticated, legalized, and translated into French.

We sent this paperwork to our Haitian attorney in October 2005. We also had to be fingerprinted by the Department of Homeland Security and pay fees to the U.S. government to receive their approval to adopt, which is mandatory for our child to be allowed to enter the United States.

As I write this, we are awaiting our final legal adoption papers from the Haitian government. With these, we will be able to obtain a Haitian passport for our son. U.S. officials at U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services in Port-au-Prince will conduct an investigation to ensure there was no fraud in the adoption. Finally, we will go to the U.S. consulate in Port-au-Prince, and after we turn in some forms, pay another fee, and have an interview, our son will be granted a precious U.S. visa.

We spend more time in Haiti than the average adoptive family, as my husband, John, works as a physician in clinics and hospitals around the country for several months a year. We also have a program called Haitian Hearts that brings children to the United States for heart surgery. As frustrating as our wait has been, we are fortunate to be able to spend this time with our son in Haiti. We discovered him in March 2005 at a hospital, where he had been left. When we arranged for him to be moved to an orphanage so that we could begin adoption proceedings, he had been living at the hospital for more than nine months.

Through our experiences in Haiti, we have met other adoptive parents. Many of these parents have unique horror stories about their adoptions, involving botched paperwork, unethical orphanages, and birth parents who change their minds about the adoption. They also have stories of the glorious homecomings of their children with the pain of the process forgotten like that of labor and delivery. I explain the difficulties and delays in our adoption by knowing that Haiti is a broken country from top to bottom. If it weren’t, an estimated 200,000 orphans wouldn’t need homes.

We have also met many birth parents who have placed their children ranging from newborn to preadolescence at our son’s orphanage. Most parents in developing countries who place their children for adoption do so because they lack the financial ability to care for their children. These parents love their children, but they live in a 19th century world where malnutrition and diseases like tuberculosis and malaria snatch 120 out of 1,000 children from life before their fifth birthday.

In an ideal world, children would be raised by their biological parents. When circumstances don’t allow this, there is unavoidable pain for the child and the parents, even when a loving adoptive family is found. While this pain isn’t on par with the pain of dying from malnutrition or becoming a child slave, it shouldn’t be ignored.

Unlike Madonna’s situation, our son’s birth parents are unknown to us. Our little boy’s joyfulness and intelligence belie the deprivation of the first three years of his life. He received these qualities from his parents, people he will never know, and it must have been agony for his mother or other relative to leave him with his orange hair in that hospital courtyard. Facts like these should remind us children are available for adoption in poor countries because of tragic and often preventable circumstances that we should work to eliminate.

The increasing number of these circumstances, including the millions of children in Africa and elsewhere whose parents have died of AIDS, likely means that numbers of international adoptions will continue to rise in the United States. In 2005, Americans adopted 22,728 children from abroad, triple the number from 1993. These adoptions are good for the children, good for the adoptive families, and good for the country, but they should be done with some sensitivity for the massive injustice that permits them.

Americans often disregard history. Even when we don’t, a tour through an orphanage in a developing country can obfuscate the meaning of history in the emergency of the present. Children need parents. As the paternal grandmother of Madonna’s adoptive son said, "No one here could take care of David. He needed good milk and nutrition. We are too poor even to properly feed ourselves.”

We are humbled to be parents to our beautiful son and also by the need that has made it necessary. We will work to do them both justice.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Commendation from the Haitian Consulate in Chicago

This letter was part of a poster presented to John after his work with Marie Amazan, a young woman from Haiti with a ,very sick heart, who received surgery at Provena St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, IL in the summer of 2007. Marie was not far from death when she arrived in the United States. A couple months later, she left with a healthier heart courtesy of a couple of artificial valves, the skill of Dr. Foy, the surgeon, the generosity of Provena St. Joseph, and the perseverance of John.

Consulat General de la Republique d'Haiti a Chicago
22 S. State Street, Suite 2110
Chicago, IL 60604

July 18, 2007

Dear Dr. Carroll,

On behalf of the Consulate General of Haiti in Chicago and indeed on behalf of the Haitian community, I want to express my profound and sincere gratitude to you for the wonderful difference you have been making in many Haitian lives for the better part of a quarter of a century.

I know that you are a man of God and that your satsifaction lies in the knowledge that you are doing His work by embracing, helping and uplifting your fellow humans; the humblest among them. I also know htat you have seen many a grateful smile and felt the extraordinary warmth of my people's hospitality.

The fact that you deliberately chose to take your skills to Haiti and trade the comfort of your home for the appaling conditions that we all know shows that beyond the misery, you see children and young adults who deserve a chance at life. You arecently gave such a chance to marei Myrtha Amazan. This young person is now facing life with a heart full of hope and gratitude.

Allow me to be the mouthpiece of all the people whose lives you have transformed. Thank you very much for having revived our trust in human nature.

May the Lord continue to bless you profusely!

Lesly Conde
Consul General

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Attorney for the Poor

I don't think I've written enough about how much I admire my husband John for his work in Haiti and on behalf of Haitians. He gives his all in so many ways. The clinics and hospitals where he works in Haiti are jam packed with patients, many of whom are very sick. John loves being able to give these babies and children the medicines they need, medicines that often save their lives. But it is hard not to have all the tools and medicines to appropriately treat every patient he sees. And even when children are cured, knowing that they return to the same poverty-stricken environment that may have given rise to their illness is a psychological burden.

Bringing children to the States for surgery is an endeavor requiring a Sisyphusian-amount of effort. Children with heart problems have to be identified and sent for an echocardiogram. The parents must keep in touch with us and obtain a passport for their child. Up north, John asks hospitals and doctors if they would be willing to accept a Haitian patient for free or at a greatly reduced cost. He hears no much more often than yes. When a hospital does accept a child, a raft of paperwork must be completed and sent to Haiti so that the U.S. consulate will grant a visa for the child. Then the Haitian state has to give their permission for the child to leave without a parent. . . more paperwork. Airplane tickets and host families must be arranged for. When the child arrives, usually with John accompanying him, all kinds of medical, language, and other details need to be taken care of until the child returns to Haiti. John always follows up with the children on later trips to ensure their recovery is going well.

I guess the thing I find the most admirable about all that John does is that he doesn't have to do it. The heartbreaking reality is that no one--or very few people--care about these children and the awful circumstances of their lives. If enough people cared, the world would change. There is no political, social, or economic pressure to get these children care; in fact, I would say that there is pressure not to get them care. It would be so easy to forget these kids when the Haiti trip is over. But John doesn't.

So I am glad when John receives recognition for his hard work. It is nice to have it appreciated and it encourages us to keep on. In the next post, I'll reprint a commendation John and Haitian Hearts recently received from the Haitian consulate in Chicago.

"The physicians are the natural attorneys of the poor, and the social problems should largely be solved by them." Rudolf Virchow

Monday, March 17, 2008

Why This Blog Hasn't Been Live From Haiti For Over a Year

I first went to Haiti in 1990. My parish, St. Mark's, had a sister parish in Jacmel, and I went for a 10 day trip to help deliver supplies. It was a memorable trip--most first time trips to Haiti are--and I had a sense that some day i would return, though I didn't know when.

It wasn't until 2003 that I traveled back to Haiti. I was dating my future husband John, who has spent so much of his time working as a doctor in this poor country. It was the first and almost shortest of the 10 trips I have taken with him. The longest trip was the last one, clocking in at seven months from July 2006 to February 2007, when the adoption of our son was finally completed. With the exception of a five day stay in Jeremie, a coastal town in the northwest of Haiti, we have spent all of this time in the Port-au-Prince area. Life in the capital is harsher than life in the countryside. In fact, people say there are two Haitis: Port-au-Prince and everything else. Between this harshness and the dire medical situations I've seen due to John's work, the time spent in Port-au-Prince has been more shocking than my original trip.

Anyway, so why hasn't this blog been live from Haiti for more than a year?

The short answer is family. My husband's mom, Mary, who is 93, recently moved from her home to the home of her other son and his family. It takes the help of the whole family to make this work and has ruled out long term trips to Haiti. John managed to go to Haiti three times in 2007, for about a week each time. He made these trips to bring people to the United States for surgery or escort children back to Haiti after surgery.

The other family member who has something to do with my remaining stateside for over a year is our son Luke. He's had a wonderful thirteen months in the United States getting to know his extended family, attending pre-school, taking swimming and tennis lessons, and in general becoming Americanized. While we plan to travel to Haiti with Luke, it has been nice to have this time with him at home.

So when will we return? I know that we will, but I'm not sure when. It's difficult to put a timetable on family situations. However, having a little Haitian living with us helps keep the spirit of the blog alive.

Between John's extensive involvement in Haiti and our adopting Luke, my life is more intertwined with Haiti than I ever thought it would be 18 years ago. It has been one of the big blessings in my life.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

An Update with Apologies

Apologies to all who have been stopping by for the infrequent--very infrequent--posting levels lately. Here's what's been going on:

Both Jhiny and Christelle had successful surgery in January in St. Louis and are continuing their recuperation in Peoria.

A winter edition of the Haitian Hearts newsletter recently went out. If you'd like a copy mailed to you, please send your address to and I'd be happy to send you one.

The home of one of our Haitian Hearts patients, Caleb, was destroyed by a tropical storm near the seaside town of Les Cayes late last year. Around this time, Caleb's father also suffered a stroke from which he is now recovering. Haitian Hearts sent Caleb's famil some money to rebuild their home.

In the last couple of months, there was a lot of press coverage of the mudpies that poor Haitians have to resort to eating if they want to put anything in their stomachs. Most people find this outrageous, as it is. A small group of people refuse to believe that this is really happening (it is hard to believe). Some even say that Haitians want to eat dirt, that it's some kind of cultural preference. On February 12, 2007, when my husband John was in Cite Soleil, he saw these mud pies and took the picture that accompanies this post. Haitians aren't eating these pies because they crave dirt; they're eating them because they crave food and there is none to be had.

We have frequent e-mail and phone contact with Haitians. It's a marvel of the world that some of the poorest people in the world, like Frandy who lives in a two room house on the side of a mountain in Carrefour, a slum suburb of Port-au-Prince, have access to the internet. If we can permeate the world with technology, why can't we permeate the world with food? By the way, Frandy is working very hard in school, an opportunity made available to him thanks to a scholarship from his generous host family in St. Louis. Frandy's goal is to attend college in the United States.

Thanks for checking in. Here are some topics I'll be writing about soon:

A 76-year-old's reactions to his first trip to Haiti.

Our search for hospitals to operate on two young women who have rheumatic heart disease.

A commendation that Haitian Hearts has received from the Haitian consulate in Chicago.

Why it's been a year since I've been to Haiti.

What we know about restaveks--child slaves who work for families in Haiti and the United States.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Welcome Jhiny & Cristelle

Haitian Hearts ended the year by bringing two more children to the United States for heart surgery. In December, John and my dad flew to Port-au-Prince. It was a quick trip—four days. Escorting 13-year-old Jhiny and 4-year-old Cristelle to St. Louis was the main mission of the trip.

St. Louis was our most valuable city in 2007, as we brought three patients there this year. Jhiny and Cristelle will receive their medical care from Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center.

Jhiny has an ASD, an opening between the upper chambers of the heart. She will need open-heart surgery to fix this defect. Cristelle has a PDA, a defect which hopefully will be able to be repaired in the cath lab.

Both girls are staying with a wonderful host family, Jim and Jane Ebel, who also cared for Mauricio earlier in the year. Jane reports that Jhiny is a big help around the house and Cristelle gets more comfortable each day.

The girls have had new echocardiograms performed by Cardinal Glennon. They should be on the surgery schedule soon.
My dad with Jhiny and Cristelle at the airport in Port-au-Prince as they prepare to board the plane.