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Communiqué #023



March 9, 2006

The events of the last two days have re-affirmed for me that God is still using me to do His work in Haiti!

I received an email from a Haitian doctor in Les Cayes asking if I could once again try to find help for a child with severe burns. The last time that I was involved with something like this was when I still lived in the states and I was not the primary person handling the situation. Awaiting me now was another learning experience. The email that I received from the doctor included photos of a severely burned 16 month old girl. I learned that she had been burned when she overturned a big cooking pot, spilling hot cooking oil onto her chest, leg, arm and hand. It was obvious that she would need extensive plastic surgery, skin grafting and a sterile environment to prevent further infection. None of these are available in Haiti.

Immediately I sent off an email to Healing the Children in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was a miracle that we actually had power so that I could send the email. I began praying! I reply quickly came, via email! Included in the email were some forms that needed to be filled out to submit an application. After printing the forms, I traveled with the doctor to the poor General Hospital to meet this little girl. It was on the way to the hospital that I learned that another baby had just been admitted, also with severe burns. Turning to the doctor, I said, “We have to get a copy of these forms and fill out applications for BOTH children.” Learning that the copy machine at the hospital was in an office that was locked up for the night, we made a detour to find a business in town that could make photocopies. Thankfully, the business was open and we were quickly able to get copies and proceed to the hospital. On the way, the doctor explained that this second child was burned when the mother left the 3 month old baby on her bed to go outside to go to the bathroom, as the home has neither plumbing nor electricity! A kerosene lantern that was sitting by the bed had tipped over and started the bed on fire! It was only because of the baby’s screams that the mother learned of the tragedy!

Upon reaching the hospital, we went to the pediatric center to visit the youngest baby. Keep in mind that sterile is not in the medical vocabulary at this hospital. The rooms have at least 20 beds in them. There is little or no lighting at night. There are no screens on the windows to prevent mosquitoes from coming into the rooms. No meals are served. The families are required to bring food into the hospital for their loved ones or cook it outside on a little charcoal fire. There are no isolation areas. There are 1 or 2 nurses caring for all the patients. The medical equipment is at a bare minimum. I was appalled to learn that blood pressures could not be taken on any of the children because the hospital has no pediatric blood pressure cuffs! We entered the pediatric center, first passing through the room for malnourished and dehydrated children. I wanted to stop and hold each child. We proceeded to the room where the first baby had a bed. When we walked to the bed where the baby was earlier in the day, we found no baby. The visitors of the nearby patients said that the mother had left with the baby. What? The doctor explained that this happens many times. When the family determines that their loved is getting worse and most likely dying, they leave with the patient and return to their village so the person can die at home. My heart sank! “Could we go to the family’s home to talk to them?” I asked the doctor. He replied that the family lived very far away and finding them would be impossible. “This is the way it is in Haiti!” he explained.

My mood was somber as we headed for the women’s center to see the second baby. There she was among a roomful of much older patients. She was surrounded by family. Someone had made her a little “tent” with mosquito netting to place over her bed. As she whimpered, her mother was coaxing her to breast feed. The once beautiful little girl with bouncy, black curls and little pierced earrings now was facing a life that had changed in just moments. I took more photos of the child and spent time talking with the family. After about ½ hour, we started to leave. Someone came up to us and asked us if we were also going to see the other little baby who was burned? “What little baby?” we asked. They pointed at the bed that was two beds over from the first baby. Initially, what we saw as a small pile of soiled bedding was actually the baby who we thought had disappeared into the night with her family. My spirit was renewed! “Thank you God for keeping this child in the hospital!” We proceeded to the bed and gently unfolded the cloth. We were met with huge eyes on a newborn baby-sized body. No, not newborn, but preemie-sized. The skin on her arm was as dark as a grossly over-charcoaled hot dog. Her head was completely burned, except on the right side of her face! No one was with her. There she was, a tiny little “button”, trying to fight this tragedy all by herself! “God, isn’t life in Haiti hard enough?” It was getting dark and the electricity was not working in the room. I tried to get photos, hoping that the photos would turn out in the dimly lit environment. I said a little prayer that God would keep this little one in His care. We turned to the other family, as we started to leave the room and asked if they would please tell the baby’s mother that we would be back the next day to ask her the same questions that we had asked them so that we could fill out the necessary application forms. I offered a prayer with the family and then we went to the car. As we drove up to the hospital gate, we were met by a man who was wildly waving his arms. He hurried to the driver’s side of the car and informed the doctor that the mother of the 3 month old baby had just returned to the hospital. “Can we go back to talk to her?” I asked. “Do you have the time? The doctor asked. “Of course!” We located the mother and stood outside the hospital under the one lonely parking lot light, where we had just enough light to begin filling out the forms. A multitude of mosquitoes swarmed around us! Finding that a generator had started up, we moved into the nursing office where there was a bench to sit on and a brighter light, but no fewer mosquitoes. Having been nicely seated, the power again failed and we were left in the dark. We moved, a second time, back out to the base of the parking lot light. It was there that the sad story unfolded, as told to us by this single mother of five small children. Having answers to our questions, we left for home!

To my surprise, there was still power at the house and I was able to fire off another email to Healing the Children to let them know that I now had not one but TWO babies that needed medical care. Since there are no fax capabilities in Les Cayes, I re-created the forms in a WORD document format and sent those on their way, along with the poor quality photos of the littlest baby.

I have to say that my night was a fitful one! I couldn’t help seeing those little faces again and again throughout the night! Each time I would pray a prayer for them! “God PLEASE let the answer be YES! to our application for medical treatment in the states!”

The early morning ringing of the phone got my day off to a great start! It was a call from the states from a nurse at the Shriners Hospital for Children. She was so excited to tell me that the 16 month old girl had been accepted for admittance to the hospital. “But what about the 3 month old?” I asked. She stated that she had only been given an application for one child from Haiti. She put me on hold and came back on the line stating that they indeed had received an application for another child from Haiti with face burns. Another nurse was assigned to this child and would be calling me soon. But as we talked, she decided to get the information from me on the second child, telling me that it only made sense to fly two at once! Before the day completely unfolded, we would learn that a THIRD child, a little boy living in Port-au-Prince, was also severely burned and would be joining the two little girls from LesCayes in their flight into the United States.

I needed to get back to the hospital to take better photos of the 3 month old baby, but other demands kept me from getting to the hospital until mid-afternoon. A good friend took me on his motorcycle to visit the girls. On the way, I explained to him the stories of the children. When we arrived, he decided to go into the hospital with me. I greeted the family of the 16 month old, talked a little bit and noticing that no one was at the bedside of the 3 month old, I proceeded to go to visit her. I gently folded back the towel that was covering the baby’s face. She was so still. Her eyes were not blinking. My friend approached and asked, “Do you think she has died?” I said, “Yes! Will you please go get the nurse?” He walked to the desk, returning with the nurse, who confirmed that indeed the child had died. The news quickly spread throughout the room. The Creole word for dead was spoken on the lips of each person in the room. I heard wailing out in the hallway and then knew the mother was sitting out there. My body seemed glued to the spot where I was standing by the baby’s bed. My hands began to tremble and the tears began to flow. Nearby visitors and patients could see my tears and said aloud, “The white person is crying!” My friend held me in his arms and together we mourned the passing of this innocent little child.

I needed to go to the mother! I found her collapsed on the bench in the hallway, stricken with grief. We had only met the night before, but as mother-to-mother, I felt her pain. I caressed her cheek and embraced her when she came to a sitting position. No words needed to be said!

It was then that the ways of Haiti were once again revealed to me! In my American way of thinking, I assumed that the hospital would take care of the arrangements for removal of the body, but this was not the case. As I was digesting the implications of that, Leon walked into the hospital. After telling him the news, he and my friend sprung into action. It never fails in Haiti, that when someone is in need of a helping hand, everyone pitches in to help. My friend talked to the mother asking her how she wanted to get the baby home. She told us that she could not hold her dead baby and that someone else would need to do that for her. She had no one at the hospital with her and everyone she knew lived far, far away. I asked what would happen to the body while she sent word to her family. They said that they had a refrigerated room to place the body in, but it cost big money for the room and this poor mother did not have that kind of money. Quickly, I told them to find out how much it cost and I would gladly pay the money for them! The mother then talked with Leon and my friend to try to decide how she would get word to her family. Leon ended up taking her on my motorcycle and finding a boat for her to return to her home more quickly than taking a taxi to her home. Leon paid for her boat ride and met me later back at the church.

It was Wednesday evening and that means Wednesday evening prayer service! I knew that I could not stay for the whole service, as I had more paperwork to complete for the remaining little girl, but I knew I needed to see the kids of the orphanage before I went back to the hospital. As the kids filed into the service, I gave each of them an extra big hug. Their little lives seemed all that more precious after what I had just witnessed at the hospital! I needed to hold some healthy kids in my arms!

Leaving the service early, I headed back to the hospital on a motorcycle. This time I was met by an empty bed where the sheet had been stripped from the mattress – the little bed of that precious little baby. I walked over to the family of the 16 month old and talked with them, at length, at about what would happen in the states for their baby. I had them sign some authorization forms and thanked God that this little one was holding her own!

I had hoped to escort these little ones into the states, but upon learning that the process for getting them an emergency medical visa and passport would take at least 10 more days, I knew I could not stay, as I had appointments in the states that would prevent me from doing so. I proceeded to made arrangements for the daughter or son-in-law of Pastor Israel to take my place in escorting the little girl and little boy, when the paperwork is completed.

I close this communiqué by once again asking you for prayers! Please pray that God protects the two remaining children from infection and other complications, while they are waiting to come to the states. May God grant them safe travels as they make the bumpy journey to the airport into less-than-ideal circumstances for transporting children such as these! Please join me in thanking God for the Haitian doctor that helped these children get a chance at living a better life by seeking treatment in the states for them! The doctor is an incredible Christian man who is doing his best in a medical environment that is unbelievable. God is using him in spite of the most difficult of circumstances! Thank you for being our prayer supporters!!!

Nora Nunemaker

Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic Until next time ………….

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