Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Dignitaries

The Dignitaries---May 13, 2006

The Haitian grandma sat on the wooden bench in the clinic looking at her 10 month old grandson who lay quietly on his back on her lap. Her eyes were tired and full of despair. He glanced at her with his own tired sunken eyes. He really didn’t look around at others as he should have. He weighed 4 kilograms.

Helicopters flew over the clinic escorting dignitaries from all over the world to hotels for the Haitian presidential election. Neither the gandma nor the baby cared about the noise from the helicopters or the bevy of activity in PAP regarding the inauguration. The baby was too sick and the grandma was out of hope.

The baby had vomiting and diarrhea for 2 days and his mother had died months ago. Grandma is the “primary care provider”. She would gently move the baby on her lap but his head would flop backwards without support and his tiny arms hung down from his side. His breathing was fast because his brainstem told him to breathe as fast as he could to neutralize the acid that has accumulated in his body from his depleted circulation. He had been given IV fluids but the IV was now pulled and he was being sent home because the clinic was closing, we had no room, and grandma had no money for any other hospital.

Before they left,we taught grandma how to slowly give him drinks of water from a plastic cup mixed with powder containing the sodium, potassium, and bicarbonate to perk his body back to life again. He avidly swallowed the solution when she offered it. However, a fair amount fell onto his chest. Grandma has no time for this. She doesn’t even have potable water in her shack. She has other responsibilities too. But the baby needs the fluids to save his life. The baby was trying and grandma did her best. But grandma will give up after a while and the baby will die without a whimper. When grandma softly said, “O Jesu,” she was not using Jesus’ name in vain. She simply meant that she will be burying another little family member soon.

Haiti has one inauguration each 5 years but we see Haitian babies dying like this everyday. Gastrointestinal diseases along with respiratory tract illnesses cause the majority of deaths in the first year of life around the world. Globally, 4 million babies die in their first month of life. The real problem is poverty which allows these babies to get sick and poor or no medical care to provide relief during their downward swirl. The vast majority of these 4 million deaths are preventable.

We live in the Information Age. The information how to save this baby is well known all over the world. But the system and structure has to be in place to apply the information to save this Haitian baby. By system and structure, I mean a rehydration center, with a nurse that will provide assistance for as long as it takes to rehydrate this baby. The system and structure is what fails these babies, not their grandmas.

So grandma and the grandson headed back into the very hot mid afternoon sun. The roads have been cleaned some and the Haitian National Police are ubiquitous. Much money is being spent at hotels for the local Haitian drink this weekend as journalists, camera crews, and dignitaries meet in upscale locations perched in high cool locations away from the hell that lies below them in the city. The inauguration is Sunday at the National Palace which will be the same day grandma buries her grandbaby for lack of basic drink and a system and structure to sustain.

“Distance negates responsibility.” Guy Davenport

Monday, May 01, 2006


Dear Sister Judith Ann, Bishop Jenky, Doug, Keith, Paul, Gerry, and Joe,

Greetings from Haiti.

On Thursday morning, April 23, 2006, Jackson Jean-Baptiste sister Nadia
showed up for the first time since we have been in Haiti this month. It
was the first time we saw her since Jackson's death in January.

As she walked towards us, this very lovely 19 year old girl had a little
smile and was wearing blue jeans and a blue shirt. However, she walked
towards us very unsure of herself and very docile, like poor Haitians
are trained to be. We hugged her and she sat down at our table with us.

After Jackson had died, I called her and told her the unfortunate news.
However, I heard trough the Haitian grapevine that she was not sure that
Jackson was really dead. As we talked the other day about things, her
eyes welled up with tears because she had never seen me in five years
without Jackson close by. Jackson was not appearing from around the
corner and never would.

Nadia started to cry slowly with one huge tear that trickled slowly down
her right cheek. That turned into massive body shaking sobs that went on
for 30 minutes as she lowered her head to her knees.

I told her how sorry we were for Jackson's death. Kleenex after Kleenex
only helped a little. My weak attempts to tell her that Jackson was in a
better place and wasn't suffering anymore did not help much. Nadia
stated that she understood, but Jackson was her "only big brother". She
had lost two other brothers and her father was murdered.

Nadia asked to see the album of pictures that we brought with us of
Jackson's funeral in Illinois. As she paged through the little album,
she sobbed more and shook her head no. I think for the first time she
realized that Jackson was gone and this was all real and it was really
bad. Jackson was indeed buried on the hillside of a little cemetery
overlooking a dreary looking brown cornfield in the Midwest.

Nadia asked why Jackson's face was swollen in the casket and his lips
turned down. I told her that before he died his face was swollen and
that is how he ended up after the morticians work. She stared at the
face of her brother that used to make her laugh by dancing and singing
with the radio on and acting like he was playing the guitar. She told
jokes with him outside their shack in the morning on the mountain
overlooking Port-au- Prince. How could Jackson look so sad in death?
This was all too much.

She also saw photos of all the white Americans that had come to his
funeral and sang for him in the cemetery on that cold and rainy January
day. Nadia saw the faces of his host families at the wake and cemetery.
She saw the statue of St. Martin de Porres at the church where the
funeral Mass was held in Peoria. There was an amazing likeness of the
statue's face and Jackson's live happy face.

After an hour of this misery, Nadia was able to calm down, and we
devised a plan to get a Jackson's heavy suitcase, laden with gifts for
him while he was alive, to his home two hours up the mountain.

Yesterday, on Saturday morning, Nadia returned with a driver to
transport Jackson's belongings and my wife Maria and I to his home to
see his mother for the first time since his death. Jackson's 15 year old
brother Gabriel Moise came along. We threw Jackson's suitcase in the
back of the pickup, and after the driver took a rock he had wedged
between his battery and hood and banged on something in the motor, the
ignition kicked in and we were off through the insanely busy streets of

Coursing up the mountain was a painful experience. The roads were jam
packed with people and are full of holes and curves, stalled Mack
trucks, and people backing their vehicles down their lane directly at

When we arrived in Jackson's village called La Boul, we were only able
to go so far until the road turned to dirt and holes and the driver
pulled over. We all got out at that point and lugged Jackson's suitcase
down slippery and steep dirt trails. These were the same hills and roads
that Nadia and her mom had carried Jackson on a chair to see us on
December 1,
2005 when he was too weak to walk. It did not seem humanly possible that
Jackson survived that trip.

I had been to Jackson's home five years ago and the surroundings all
started looking familiar. As we approached Jackson's home, approximately
25 of his neighbors were on a front porch of the home next to Jackson's
singing and praying very loudly over problems they were having.

Jackson's mom Rosette, older sister Claudette, and eight year old
brother were there to greet us on a small patch of dirt that serves as
their front yard. Rosette was not smiling but she gently hugged us. I
could hear her wheezing from her asthma. She is 44 years old but appears
quite a bit older.

She invited us in her little two room shack. We entered through the
front door, which is a piece of cloth, into a room about 12#12 feet. The
floor is cement and the walls are cinderblock and cement. The roof is
the usual Haitian corrugated metal roof with holes in it where we could
see dots of daylight above us. One light bulb hangs suspended from a
wire that is fed with borrowed electric current from the big electric
line close to their home.

An adjacent darker smaller room's walls are caving in and its roof is
leaking even worse than the main room. Rosette stores her second hand
clothes that she buys in a port city in this room and sells them on a
street corner near her home in La Boul. Nadia and her little brother
sleep in this room.

Jackson's bed was to our immediate left in the first room and they have
turned it into a little "shrine". The bed has a spread and small pillow.
A red covered Bible with "Jackson" scribbled on the side sat on the
pillow as did his fake Rolex looking watch and his picture album of all
the blans that helped him in the United States when he had his previous
heart surgeries. A ragged stuffed little cloth dog that must have been
Jackson's sat guard in the middle of the bed facing the pillow.

Rosette talked about how much she appreciated what we had done for
Jackson. She spoke of her life and that not much is left for her. She is
grateful for her children, especially Nadia, who seems like she can help
the most now that Jackson is gone.

Maria slowly unloaded Jackson's suitcase with his second hand clothes
that were still neat and folded. At this point, Rosette started to cry.
Maria removed a smooth heavy rock from the funeral that was engraved
"Jackson Jean-Baptiste Jesus Loves You". Rosette could not read the rock
because she is illiterate or the numerous notes from people in the
States. When I handed her the funeral pamphlet with Jackson's smiling
face on the cover, she barely looked at it and did not open it. His
sisters glanced at his obituary in the Peoria Journal Star, but could
not read the English.

Maria explained who gave which gifts and Rosette shook her head as if
she understood.

We gave her only a small portion of the money that was donated to her at
Jackson's funeral, so if she gets robbed, the thieves will get only a
small portion of the donation. We will disperse the rest to her in the
same quantities when we come in the future. Also, it would be nice if a
work team could be organized to build her a new home or patch the leaky
roof and repair the wall that is crumbling in the dark room.

Sister and Bishop Jenky, I am going to ask Rosette if she would like to
visit the United States so she can meet Jackson's host families in the
Peoria area, his doctors and nursing staff at OSF, and can see his grave
in Goodfield, Illinois.

I would like you to be able to meet her. She will thank you for all you
did for Jackson but will have some questions for you regarding Jackson's
demise in 2005.

She will probably ask you, Sister Judith Ann and Bishop Jenky, what your
understanding was regarding Catholic social teachings, the Bishops'
Ethical and Religious Directives regarding health care, and the OSF's
Sisters mission philosophy regarding her son. Rosette will want to see
the plans for the new 200 million dollar Children's Hospital of
Illinois, and may ask you why you would not accept 20,000 dollars for
Jackson's care in Peoria when he really needed your resources. She will
have specific questions for Keith and Paul, and will ask some ethical
questions of Joe and Gerry, I am sure. Doug, her legal questions will
probably be limited, but I am sure she would like to meet you anyway,
since you played such a large role in Jackson's life.

I will obtain her travel visa and Haitian Hearts will purchase her
ticket and travel to and from Peoria with her. You don't have to worry
about these details.

Please let me know when a good date would be when we could all get
together with Rosette so open and honest communication, a central OSF
mission statement, can occur. She lost her son. She deserves this, don't
you think?


John Carroll

PS Would you please circulate this to the people at the top if their e
mail addresses don't appear? Thank you.