Several years ago, while checking kids in the pediatric ward at the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince, I examined a 13 year old girl who I will call Stephanie. She had the cachectic, docile, sick look characteristic of children who have been sick and neglected for quite some time. She appeared very pathetic. Her caring older sister at the side of her bed fed and bathed her and changed her sheets. She told me that Stephanie had a heart problem for an unknown period of time and this was her first hospitalization. Their mother was dead and they were living in a home for girls.
Her heart exam revealed a murmur consistent with a leaky mitral valve. She was in chronic congestive heart failure.
After several months, Haitian Hearts was able to get Stephanie to the States for heart surgery and she eventually did very well after a rocky post-operative course.
Her father told me that Stephanie’s mother had died on January 2, 1992 after suffering a severe beating from the Haitian military. Apparently, her mother was an “Aristide fanatic” according to the father. One day in late December, 1991 Stephanie’s father was returning to his neighborhood on the outskirts of PAP, and his neighbors warned him that five soldiers were in his house and he better leave the neighborhood immediately. Stephanie was 15 days old and she and her siblings had been taken out of the home by vigilant neighbors before the soldiers arrived.
When he returned to his home, he found Stephanie’s mother severely beaten by night sticks and the wooden stocks of the soldiers’ rifles. She was barely conscious. He told me her face, chest, and abdomen were “blue”.
He left the capital immediately and hid on the southern part of the island. (For the next three years he snuck into the capital to check his family.) His mother, Stephanie’s grandmother, took care of his severely beaten wife and took her to the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince where she remained for two weeks. Grandmother bought medicines for her off the street, but surgery could not be done because the hospital lacked the equipment and grandmother lacked the money to purchase it.
Stephanie’s mother was discharged to home where she died a few days later after coughing up “a lot of black blood”. Her father showed me pictures of his wife’s body lying in the casket in her wedding gown, her face still bruised and swollen. She looked like she was in her late 20’s. She and Stephanie look like they could be sisters.
So Stephanie grew up in this slum with untreated rheumatic fever without a mother and with a father on the run from the Haitian military. Her life has improved but Stephanie’s father still talks in a whisper and looks over his shoulder hoping the soldiers do not return.