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News: 02/01/2010

Haiti – One story of survival

By Katherine Nichols, USAID

[Editors note: Katherine Nichols is the daughter of Rhoda and Luther Nichols, who live in Oakmont. Katherine has worked for the U.S. AID program, helping people in Africa and Kosovo, and has been in Haiti the past few years. She will continue her work there. This is her story from the earthquake zone.]

The baby cried softly at first. So softly that no one knew how badly he was hurt. Lindley-Paul Louis-Jean waited patiently in the arms of his father, Leveque, who was unhurt. His mother, Paula, sat beside them with severe injuries to her shoulder, arm and leg that seemed of no concern to her. When I saw them sitting in the waiting room of the U.S. Embassy Medical Unit in Port-au-Prince (where I was working with two colleagues to help one doctor all night and the day following the earthquake) I was struck by their anxious, patient expressions. Their faces reflected an odd mix of shock and calm. When the baby cried louder I brought him a rattle that I found the night before while we were desperately searching for painkillers to treat the American citizens arriving at the security gates limping, bleeding, or carrying a loved one in their arms.

When the baby cried louder, I asked the doctor to please see him next. Underneath his blanket, his upper left arm was partly crushed. I could see a two-inch wide wound where blood, bone and tissue were mixed together with rubble and dust.

Tiny Lindley was one of the lucky survivors of the earthquake in Haiti in that he received medical care, but his future is far from secure.

“I can’t clean this” the doctor said. “We need to disinfect it, wrap it, and get him to surgery as soon as possible.”

The baby’s arm was doused with disinfectants and bandaged. The mother was examined and treated with the limited medical supplies available. The family was then asked to wait while their citizenship was determined by the U.S. Embassy Consular Section, which is still working tirelessly to meet the needs of all American citizens in Haiti.

Lindley is indeed an American citizen, born prematurely in New York City while his mother was caring for her dying godfather. His parents, however, are Haitian. Only American citizens could leave on the C-131 scheduled to depart at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 13. Lindley could be escorted, I was told, by another American citizen, but not his parents.

The doctor was honest.

“He needs a heavy dose of pediatric antibiotics that we don’t have here and may not exist in all of Port-au-Prince. If he gets that within 24 hours, he may not lose his arm. Within 48 hours, without proper medication, he will probably lose his life.”

The Ambassador authorized me to take him on the evacuation flight to Santo Domingo.

At the medical unit, the doctor handed me a bag of special bandages to control bleeding, antiseptic wipes, and a face full of understanding. While we quickly gathered some supplies, the baby’s parents signed documents provided to them by the Embassy, and asked again why one of them could not come with their baby. One hour later, I was holding Lindley in my arms inside a C-131 military plane with 69 other Americans waiting to depart for Santo Domingo.

New Hurdles

After four days in the hospital, two surgeries and a blood transfusion, Lindley is recovering. Paula and Leveque arrived by bus from Port au Prince on Monday after receiving American tourist visas. Like me, they sit by his bed day and night monitoring his IV and heart rate, trying to soothe him when the pain becomes overwhelming. The surgeons inserted a metal rod to hold his arm together. The rod needs to be removed in a few months. They spent hours cleaning the wound. His greatest risk now is infection because his wound was open for more than 24 hours. While the surgery went well and his arm and life were saved, his wound is still severe. I am told by the doctors here that it will take months of follow-on care to be sure he is free from infection and his arm is healing properly. The cost of treatment, follow-on care, and housing for him and his parents while he receives this care is at least $30,000.

Lindley’s parents are destitute. Their apartment building collapsed while Lindley was playing with his mother on the second floor. There was just enough time for Paula to grab him and run for the stairs. A beam fell on them, crushing his left arm as he clung to his mother’s shoulder. Paula’s leg was pinned under the rubble until she was freed many hours later.

Lindley will need follow-on medical care to prevent further infection. His two operations, his blood transfusion, intravenous feeding and pain medication and one-week hospital stay will cost $20,000 or more. His parents will need a place to live near the hospital for six months as well as food, clothes, baby things, transportation to and from the hospital for the baby’s appointments, and a phone to communicate if they need urgent medical help for Lindley.

After six months we hope they will be able to return to Haiti, where Leveque was earning $450 a month as a bank supervisor. They have no friends or relations in the United States.

Saving Lindley’s life involved five doctors, two operations, a blood transfusion, a week in the hospital, an airlift in a C-131, one U.S official staying by his side day and night for three days, one U.S. official from the American Citizens Services Office in Santo Domingo devoting hours to his case, another in Port au Prince working for a full day to help obtain required visas for his parents, and a translator. Lindley needs support to help his family pay his medical expenses after being discharged from the hospital on Monday Jan. 18, and to cover living expenses while he receives follow-on care. If they do not receive this help, they will be forced to return to Haiti where he will be one of hundreds of thousands of children waiting for medical treatment. If he develops an infection there, he will have little chance of survival.

Katherine Nicholas, a USAID worker in Haiti.

I carried Lindley onto the C-131 leaving Port-au-Prince the day after the earthquake because I wanted one less “stupid death” – the term Anderson Cooper of CNN uses to describe the hundreds of deaths taking place as I write. Children who survived the earthquake, whose families and friends dug them out of the rubble with their bare hands, are not getting the medical treatment they need and are now suffering and dying from infection.

You can learn more about efforts to help this baby at

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