In 2010, only a few short days after the New Year greeted the beautiful people of Haiti and celebrations had subsided, a catastrophic earthquake ravaged Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives with mass destruction to an extensive geographic area.
Dr. P. Craig Hobar, Director of International Craniofacial Development of Medical City Children’s Hospital and the Founder and Medical Director of the LEAP Foundation (LEAP), a non-profit that has provided free specialized craniofacial surgery to children in impoverished regions around the world for 23 years, saw the devastation being reported in Haiti and quickly made his way to help provide surgical care to those in need, literally days after the earthquake occurred.
Dr. Ale Garcia-Mitchell, Dr. Hobar, and LEAP organized a disaster relief program where 21 surgical teams from around the U.S. and Canada provided complex surgical reconstructive procedures to earthquake victims over the next six months.
During these months of early recovery, Dr. Anna Tran and Dr. Joy Touchstone, both Dallas-based pediatricians, answered a call to serve in Haiti, traveling with another medical organization that was sending teams to help in the region. While in Haiti, Drs. Tran and Touchstone evaluated a male infant, Orleans, who was only six weeks old, diagnosing him with Pierre Robin sequence, a condition caused by a smaller than normal lower jaw that often results in the tongue falling in the back of the throat, potentially impairing breathing. According to his mom Fabienne, Orleans had already experienced bouts in which he had stopped breathing, and she was having great difficulty in feeding him.
While trying to locate a hospital to accept Orleans in the United States, no easy task since many were already inundated with emergency patients transferred from Haiti, Fabienne began to tell Drs. Tran and Touchstone a most remarkable story.
Orleans had stopped breathing one day, and a frightened Fabienne quickly made her way to seek help from a local physician. After she arrived, she was told that Orleans had died; he was carefully wrapped in a blanket, taken to the morgue, and left amongst others with a similar fate. Only because of an astute passerby who heard tiny muffled sounds emerging from the wrapped body of Orleans did they realize that he had actually survived, fighting again for every breath to live. He was urgently taken to the floor and carefully watched over by Fabienne and other most grateful medical providers.
While Drs. Tran and Touchstone did their initial exam of Orleans, they noticed that there were several times in which he would cry and his heart stopped; furthermore, he was unable to eat and was frequently choking. Not having the benefit of diagnostically visualizing his anatomy, placement of a feeding tube was not possible. But Orleans was a fighter, and Drs. Tran and Touchstone were very determined guardians.
Requiring round-the-clock care and aggressive resuscitation, Dr. Tran literally sent out a 911 plea to a list of approximately 50 professional colleagues to see if they could help connect a surgeon to transfer and care for Orleans. Not only was Dr. Hobar the only person who responded, but he actually called Dr. Tran in Haiti within an hour to see how he could help. Remarkable!
Not long afterward, Dr. Hobar connected with Medical City Children’s Hospital, who was extremely committed to helping beyond most in the southern region, agreeing to generously provide an airplane and a nurse to transfer Orleans and Fabienne to Dallas. An emergency visa for both were obtained, a small miracle in and of itself, and in the middle of the night, Dr. Hobar and his wife, Robin, met the team in Dallas at the airport, along with Mariline, a young woman and Haitian earthquake survivor who had been recovering in the Hobar home for a couple of months after a lengthy stay at a local hospital. Mariline, who spoke to Fabienne in Creole, her native language, comforted a frightened Fabienne, assuring her that her prayers had been answered and that she was now in safe, capable hands.
Orleans was admitted to Medical City Children’s Hospital Intensive Care Unit where he was extremely well cared for by the medical staff. The first few days were difficult on Fabienne in this very new environment filled with multiple monitors and procedures being performed on her small son, but the nursing staff fully embraced them both. After finding a Creole-speaking nurse, the hospital staff was not only able to calm and reassure Fabienne, but they also began to work with her to help with Orleans’ care, something that did not come easy to Fabienne.
Now, Orleans is four years old, and he is a most remarkable, healthy boy who loves life and is filled with joy. Each time that LEAP travels to Haiti, Fabienne and Orleans come to visit Dr. Hobar and the team. Fabienne tells the story of how she was inspired by the nursing staff at Medical City Children’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and is now in her fourth year of nursing school, hoping to one day soon be able to care for other children as her own son had been cared for at Medical City Children’s Hospital. Drs. Tran and Touchstone now also travel regularly with LEAP on mission trips each year, helping many children in the mission fields across the globe.
It is quite phenomenal to see how so many have come together to help a single tiny infant with a strong will to live, who is now flourishing in every possible way. Other lives were also shaped and changed by this blessed child. When we share our love and talents with others, a seed blossoms, grows, and expands in ways we could not have ever imagined.
In years to come, we will see the depths of this love within Orleans and how he will do the same for others in his lifetime ahead. Today, LEAP continues to serve Haitian children, traveling to Port-au-Prince bi-annually since the acute earthquake recovery ended. In 2014, LEAP built and funded a state-of-the-art 2,000 square foot Pediatric Ward at our host hospital, Hopital Espoir, allowing for more healing and love to flourish in literally hundreds of Haitian children for many future generations to come. In addition, Medical City Children’s Hospital continues to partner with LEAP in order to bring the most challenging and severe craniofacial cases to Dallas, offering these children a long and healthy life they would not otherwise have.