As we remember the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti four years ago this week, we are reminded of the dedicated volunteers, avid supporters, and unforgettable patients that LEAP encountered during the disaster. One of the many patients seen by LEAP in the months after the earthquake, Mariline has a story like no other.
She was just a few short months away from realizing her dream and the dream of her family: becoming the first in her family to graduate from university. Her plans were to earn a degree in accounting and finance, get a job, and help her family get out of the endless cycle of poverty. She was sitting in class waiting for the afternoon lecture to start when she felt a tremble. She looked up and saw the roof cracking, and then everything went black. When she awoke, her left arm was trapped underneath her dead classmate. There was a desk against her head and three other lifeless bodies around her. All she could hear were occasional voices in the area. She prayed constantly.
Her brother, Gesnie, came to the school and searched the rubble from sun up to sun down. He could find no evidence of his sister. He was taken out back on the second day, where he was told to look under a tarp and sort through the hundreds of lifeless young bodies to see if his sister was there. After two days, darkness came,and hope began to fade. He and Mariline continued praying. Over the next two and a half days, Mariline would repeatedly hear, “I am going.” Then the voice behind it went silent. Mariline developed an almost unbearable thirst.
At 2 A.M., Gesnie received a call from an unknown man (who Gesnie now feels was an angel), telling him that he had heard his sister’s voice and that she had given him this number. The man described exactly where Mariline was in the rubble of the collapsed four-story building. With a friend, a flashlight, a chain, and a hacksaw, Gesnie made his way to the spot where the man had heard the faint cries of someone trapped.
He created enough space to climb in, push the dead bodies and the desk away, and hoist his sister over his shoulder. Her left arm was lifeless. He took her to the closest hospital, but there were no doctors, no nurses, and no medicines. He took Mariline home Two days later, they heard of a relief team from Germany that was at Hopital Espoir (Hope Hospital). They quickly took Mariline to receive their aid. There, her left arm was amputated just beneath the shoulder. She had severe wounds to her scalp and left leg that went untreated. Six weeks into her hospitalization, still weak and sick, Mariline was transferred by pickup truck to Port-au-Prince where the LEAP team was set up in the Haitian Community Hospital. There, she was operated on several times. She initially responded, but the infection in her leg became worse.
The LEAP teams ended up caring for more than 1,000 patients, but this case was too severe to be further treated in Haiti. Dr. Hobar received a frantic e-mail, pleading for help for this young, dying women. The only way to save her life was to amputate the infected leg, which was done at the Haitian Community Hospital. Still, she was fighting for her life with a critically low blood level and a lack of antibiotics or blood transfusion. At the time, it was nearly impossible to get patients out of Haiti into America. The LEAP volunteer team went into action, and with the help of Senator Cornyn’s office, connections were made to Washington D.C., where great servants of our country gave up their holiday time and spent Easter weekend working with their counterparts in Haiti to get necessary approval. Thanks to the LEAP Landmark Fund, Dr. Ale Mitchell accompanied Mariline and her sister to Dallas, Texas. Mariline was immediately taken to Baylor Hospital. Blood transfusions, antibiotics, aided nutrition, and five surgeries brought Mariline through the crisis, but she was now facing life without an arm or leg.
She and her sister stayed with the Hobars for a four-month rehabilitation, and Mariline was fitted with a world-class prosthetic arm and leg. Once she had regained her health, Mariline moved to New Jersey to live with her aunt and cousin and continue her rehabilitation. Mariline is now back to school and continuing on her path to fulfilling her dreams.