Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Maxime's Obituary

Maxime Petion

EAST PEORIA - Maxime Petion, 21, of St. Georges, Haiti, who was hosted by an East Peoria family, died on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2007, in Cleveland, Ohio.

He had traveled from Haiti to Cleveland Clinic for medical treatment through arrangements made by Haitian Hearts, Dr. John Carroll, Senator Mike DeWine and Cleveland Clinic.

Maxime was born on May 6, 1985, to Anne Marie D'Haiti. She survives, along with three brothers, Jean-Marcel, Jean-Paul and Frandy, and one sister, Anilia, all of Haiti. He is also survived by his host family, John and Jeanette Johnson and their sons, Adam, Andy and Evan of East Peoria.

The Johnson's hosted Maxime in 2002, when he had heart surgery at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center. Becky Noss, Maxime's teacher and friend, also survives. Also surviving is Maxime's Haitian pastor and special family friend, Reverend Todo Julien. Maxime was also survived by Mary Hurley, who hosted him while he was in Cleveland.

Though Maxime lived a very poor life in Haiti, he exuded joy and gratitude through his beautiful smile. He was a very devout Christian and read his Bible so much that he wore out its binding.

Maxime touched the lives of many people in central Illinois and also during his brief time in Cleveland. One of his caretakers at Cleveland Clinic wrote the following poem in tribute to Maxime.

Thank you, Maxime, for lessons taught how to pause and enjoy the minutes, to be grateful, to breathe, and to sleep, and to laugh with beloved family and friends. As Jesus did, and Jackson and so many others, you have again taught us by example, a quiet persistent message, despite being wracked by pain and exhaustion, despite smashing into nightmares of inequity, injustice, man's arrogance and fear. Faith. Hope. Love. My faith and hope have been, once again, healed by your life example, your love of life. Now is the moment, not tomorrow or next year. Thank you for the reminder Maxime. I will try, again, to make NOW count.

Services will be held on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2007, at 10 a.m. at Mason Funeral Home, Germantown Hills Chapel, with visitation an hour before. Burial will follow at Sand Ridge Cemetery. Rev. Dr. Donald Whitman will officiate.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Maxime's Haitian family members in care of John Johnson.

Online condolences at

Published in the Peoria Journal Star on 1/24/2007.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Thirteenth Day of Christmas

Father Rick Frechette is a Passionist Catholic priest and physician in Haiti that I have the opportunity to work with on a weekly basis. Father’s article is incredible and describes the Haitian slum, the UN versus the kidnapping gangs, and social injustice that devours the body of a woman.

Pictured above is Estherline in clinic last Wednesday. She is the 19 year old girl who was shot in her left shoulder and chest by the UN helicopter while she slept. Her face says it all as UN tanks patrolled the street just a few feet away in front of the clinic in Cite Soleil.

The Thirteenth Day of Christmas

The number thirteen can cast a shadow of unease. It represents a kind of thin place, through which evil and harm can slip suddenly into ones life and reap havoc. Christmas cannot be exempt, at least on this side of heaven, from the contradictions crafted by the Prince of Darkness. These twelve days of Christmas had some pretty strong contradictions in them, at least in my very small corner of the world. Feel free to delete them and get on with your life. I wish I could.

“Peacekeepers”, who walk around only with drawn guns, seem to be missing the point. “Gang leaders”, who claim to be revolutionaries for a better world via kidnapping and killing, are equally unenlightened (to say the least). But they fire real bullets at each other, heavy weapons at that, and the real bullets shear real flesh.

In fact, in a heavy holiday gunfire exchange in Cite Soleil, between peacekeepers and builders of a better world, a young girl took a bullet into the part of her that was “with child”. An emergency Cesarean delivered a baby that was dead from a gunshot injury, and the mother still is fighting for her own life. Imagine, shot to death in your mothers womb. The young mother still lies before me in my mind, and I witness her life struggle. The Book of Revelations speaks of a dragon, as big as a third of the sky, whose tail sweeps the very stars away in fury, and who waits eagerly at the side of the pregnant one to devour the fruit of her womb. A fairy tale? I doubt it. And our Church knows that it is no fairy tale, too. Our liturgy shows us blood (red vestments) three times during Christmas week: the feasts of St Stephen, the Holy Innocents and Thomas Becket. The contradiction to Christmas lives on.

Up the rusty spiral steps, to four more children who got too close to bullets. While asleep on their simple mats, a “peacekeeper helicopter” fired shots, long before dawn’s light, hoping to hit the builders of a better world in the dark. Blood soaked mats, the tin roof riddled with bullet holes, with one hole the size of a giant fist. The oldest girl is just 19 years old. Her left shoulder has a gaping wound. She cannot speak from terror. She is still in critical condition. The three younger girls have “lesser wounds”: one to the head, one to the arm, one to the leg. They all have major wounds to the soul. Did anyone notice?

The peacekeepers deny they shot from the air. The only other explanation is that the four young sisters fired rounds at each other in their sleep, and then shot holes through the roof, and then their guns vanished in thin air. Nowadays, “truth” is whatever the strongest say happened. Maybe it has always been so. Please pray for them. Especially the oldest, whose name is Estherline.

On the ninth day of Christmas I met Madame Noel, literally, Mrs. Christmas. I didn’t so much meet her as find her on the street, slouched up against a wall, half dead, mouth open and full of flies. We jumped from the truck and picked her up. The stench hit us like a brick wall, and was unmistakable. It was the rotting flesh of cancer. Mrs. Christmas was about 70 years old, and was at the very end of savage, untreated breast cancer. Untreated? Yes. She is a sufferer of cancer in a country with almost non existent access to health care for the poor. In fact, it would be hard for a poor person to find even a daily vitamin.

As we lifted her into the truck, gagging, with the images from Cite Soleil also fresh in my mind, a passerby patted me on the back and said, “Happy New Year, Father.” You have got to be kidding. How happiness could have anything to do with all this was utterly beyond me. But I thanked him, smiled, and wished him the same, not realizing the power of the grace present in the timing of his greeting.

Madame Noel never spoke except to say her name. To any question we asked, she would whisper, “Madame Edeline Noel.” She seemed to be in a shock similar to that of Estherline, wondering if she was really there, if this was really happening to her. I was completely upside down and feeling lost for the two days that we cared for her. In such situations you feel compassion for what you also abhor. You want to embrace, and you want to run. And your body puts its own brakes on: if you go to near, you wretch unceasingly. And it is not lost on Mrs. Christmas that she is the cause of your wretching.

I can understand now the scene in the life of St Francis where, terrified, he kissed the leper. It was the absolutely courageous and merciful act to bridge the huge gap of such moments, so full of contradiction, I will spare you a detailed description of the wound which spanned her entire chest, and totally destroyed it. When finally and mercifully she died, I prayed over her lifeless body. “May the angels lead you into paradise, may the martyrs rush to welcome you on your way….” As I prayed, I was thankfully given the grace of feeling tremendous satisfaction, and felt myself turning right side up again, and reoriented. There she lay, and that was how she died: in a clean bed, with clean sheets, with clean dressing on her terrible wound, a strong perfume against the stench, IV fluids to keep her from dehydrating, morphine to lessen her agony, and a poinsettia that one of the boys from the orphanage had put on a table next to her bed. Also, she had us as friends: comforting words, daily prayers and the last sacrament. This beat by far the death she faced on a shabby street in a filthy slum. The passerby was right. Grace will break eagerly into the new year, even if only to give a somewhat happier ending to a disaster, and will wander the earth seeking those willing to give her a chance to do so.

Now we are in our third day trying to release Jayelle from her kidnappers. She is three years old. Her mother is sick with worry and unable to eat or sleep. We spent the feast of the Three Kings trying to release her from criminals who see her only as a cheap trinket that might bring big money, and who promise to give us her head on a platter if we do not comply with their impossible demands. We live in a world where heads have been delivered on platters, with no metaphors involved.

On the feast of the Kings, rather then receiving the gifts that would show her dignity, Jayelle was instead stolen from her bed, in the presence of tied and gagged parents, and has become a dispensable object to be bartered for. On the feast of the Kings, also called Epiphany (which means “before your face”, or “right there in front of you”) we are supposed to be witnessing God’s glory made present, and not hell’s cynical fury. These kidnappings are harder and harder to manage, they are completely out of control, and now involve children- some of whom have been killed. The family already gave their life savings and did not get the child in return. Then they called us to help. So far, we are failing to secure her release, and today is our last chance. But I think we will succeed. Even if we do, the poor family can hardly relocate to another and safer country, but will have to continue living in this same insecure world. And if we don’t succeed……..I shudder to think.

Do you remember “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens? Do you remember that Scrooge stood before the ghost of Christmas Present, who opened its cloak and showed two wretched and trembling children? Do you remember their names? They made Scrooge tremble, and they broke his hard heart- so that the real spirit of Christmas could burst into it through the cracks and possess it.

The story I am telling you now is very much Christmas Present. My pen opens the cloak, to me as well as to you. We are not ghosts. It cannot be too late so save humanity, which Christmas reveals to us as also divine.

It is not only Dickens who reaffirms the gospel message. The most striking Christmas card I got this year quotes a Mozarabic text from 9th century Spain. It says that at Christmas we should not pray for Christ to be born again somewhere else, but rather that the Godhead be grafted into our hearts, here and now. Christ can be conceived in our hearts if we have unquestioning faith, and can abide in us if we keep our spirit free from corruption. Then we will live “overshadowed by the Most High”, and be quickened by this power all our days. It’s about having the right heart.

Thomas Merton helps us see with more clarity still. He says that when life and death have the same value, which usually means they are both cheap and worth nothing, it is death that spreads like wildfire and dominates over life. This is the contradiction to Christmas.

When life is precious, and death is abhorred- except when it comes at its proper time and represents the fulfillment of life- that is when life spreads like wildfire and dominates over death. This is the conversion of heart that Christmas should represent. Let’s pray that it does.

The twelve days of Christmas are over now. The tree lights are off, and the wreaths taken down. Ignorance and Want still huddle under the mantle of the spirit of the present age. Will you and I dare to be father and mother to them, on the thirteen day of Christmas?

“Happy New Year, Father.”

Yes, I believe it can be. If………….

Fr Richard Frechette
January 7, 2007


Monday, January 22, 2007

Recent Posts on Peoria Pundit

The Peoria Pundit has continued to allow me to post even though his fellow bloggers get upset with him and the comments continue to disregard the content of my posts. The truth is very painful for some of these people and they become quite emotional.

Please see: OSF Expansion Continues, Jean-Baptiste's Anniversary, When a Good Hospital Loses its Way, and Pope Benedict says Hunger is Bad.

Pictured above is Maxime and his brother Jean-Marcel. Maxime will be buried this Saturday and Jean-Marcel and his two brothers are attempting to obtain visas this week to come to Illinois for his funeral.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Vita and Katina

Please go to Peoria Pundit to see new posts on Vita and Katina.

Comment on Maxime and Jackson from Cleveland Clinic Foundation

Dear Dr. Carroll,

As you know, we lost Maxime on our floor, and it broke my heart. We adored him, and we are all so thankful you brought him to us. Of course, taking care of him brought tearful memories of Jackson back to me. I go to school full time, but during my winter break, dressed in the CCF green, I spent most of my time in room four, taking care of Jackson. He was so smart, and so kind! But he was so very weak, too.
Reading this, I wonder if it was me ,the nurse-aide, because I bathed him frequently, and I still to this day remember that moment.

I will NEVER forget him. I am haunted by his tired voice, when one day towards the end of my week he asked me, "why didn't you brush my teeth?"
I did not realise that he no longer had the strength to do it himself.
So I got out the toothpaste and brush, and I spoke to him gently as I brushed his beautiful teeth.

I will always remember how he'd sit up and listen to his CD walkman, and read when he had the strength.

I feel very blessed that you brought him to us. I am still working there, but as a nurse trainee, still in school, and of course, it is my winter break and I got to meet Max.

His hard-boiled eggs were still in the hallway fridge. No one had the heart to throw them out last time I checked.

His smile and his sense of humour will live with us. I know I will never forget him. Or Jackson.

Thank you for bringing him to us.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Peoria Comments

The Peoria Pundit allows me to continue to post about Haiti, OSF, and Emergency Medical Services in Peoria. He is taking a fair amount of grief by a handful of well connected commenters who say that I have "hijacked" his blog.

We will see what happens.

War in the Haitian Slum

Please go to War in the Haitian Slum posted on the Peoria Pundit.

The Independent, February 2, 2007.

Civilians Caught in Crossfire During Port-au-Prince Raids
By Andrew Buncombe


February 2, 2007

The head of the UN mission to Haiti has publicly acknowledged international peacekeepers carrying out anti-kidnapping raids into the poorest parts of the city have to do more to avoid civilian casualties. His comments come after a series of raids in the capital, Port-au-Prince, in which witnesses said a number of innocent bystanders were either killed or wounded by peacekeepers. "We have to improve, we have to be all the time learning from this," said Ambassador Edmond Mulet, head of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (Minustah). "We have learned lessons every time we have [had] these actions."

Mr Mulet made his comments to The Independent following a presentation in Washington in which the envoy outlined some of the multitude of problems facing Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere and where 70 per cent of the population survive on less than $2 a day. The envoy denied reports that UN peacekeepers had fired from helicopters, hindered Red Cross volunteers or used "heavy munitions" in the raids on December 22, December 28 and January 5. But during his presentation this week at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) he admitted: "There has been collateral damage. Definitely."

It is unclear how many people were killed in the December 22 raid in the densely-populated slum areas of Cite Soleil when several hundred Brazilian UN soldiers launched a pre-dawn raid aimed at capturing known gang leaders. Mr Mulet said around 12 or 13 people were killed, of which 10 were known gang members; other unconfirmed reports have put the death toll higher. A number of people were also injured. John Carroll, an Illinois-based doctor who runs a charity that provides medical aid to Haitian children, said he travelled to Cite Soleil after the raid and spoke with people who had been injured. He also visited St CatherineÕs Hospital, one of the few clinics in Cite Soleil. "I spoke with the family with holes in their roof. They said the helicopter fired down on Cite Soleil for 3 hours. I saw the holes in the roof and the holes in the people," he said. "I went to St. Catherine's Hospital in Cite Soleil. I did not interview any doctors. I examined the patients myself and their stories seemed to correspond with their injuries." Mr Carroll said that in the slum he spoke with a woman who gave her name as Immacula. She said that three of her daughters - aged 13, 15 and 17 - received bullet and shrapnel injuries as a result of the raid. Mr Carroll wrote on his blog: "Immacula said the bullets from the helicopter came blasting in through their ceiling. Looking up, I could see a 12 inch hole above my head letting in the sunlight, and multiple other smaller holes peppered the roof above me to the left."

Minustah say they have been tasked by the Haitian government, headed by President Rene Preval, to carry out the raids against gang members believed to be responsible for the kidnappings that in recent months have again soared in Port-au-Prince. In one notorious incident last month a group of schoolchildren were taken from the bus and held hostage. It is predominantly the poor who suffer as a result of the ongoing insecurity. The December 22 raid in the Bwa Nef district of Cite Soleil targeted a gang led by a man called Belony. Officials said a subsequent raid on January 5 led to the arrest of two members of BelonyÕs gang, including a man called Zachari, who were sought over the their alleged involvement in the killing of two UN peacekeepers from Jordan last November. But local people and campaigners point out that given the densely populated nature of the slums and the fact that the shanties in which people live offer no protection against gunfire, such raids routinely result in innocent people being killed. The UN and the Haitian National Police also claim that gang members in the slums have shot residents and then blamed the authorities for these deaths - a claim for which no evidence has been offered. Following the December raid, Johnny Claircidor, a resident of Bwa Nef, told the Reuters newsagency, "The foreigners came shooting for hours without interruption and killed 10 people. Then Belony's gang members started to exchange fire with them. I personally counted 10 bodies."

The series of raids over Christmas and the New Year were not the first time the 7,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in Haiti has been at the centre of controversy. In July 2005 a UN raid, again in Cite Soleil, resulted in the death of up to 23 people. The raid was carried out to target a gang leader, Dread Wilme, but later Minustah admitted that civilians may have been killed "given the length of the operation and the violence of the clashes". It emerged UN troops had fired more than 22,000 bullets. An internal report from the US Embassy in Haiti, recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the Haiti Information Project (HIP), noted: "[An official] with Minustah acknowledged that, given the flimsy construction of homes in Cite Soleil and the large quantity of ammunition expended, it is likely that rounds penetrated many buildings, striking unintended targets." Since the beginning of January UN forces have set up round-blocks around Cite Soleil in an effort to dampen violence. But some activists say such arrangements, along with disruption to the areaÕs fragile water supply, has only made life more miserable for the residents. Brian Concannon, who heads the US-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, said: "This is beginning to resemble collective punishment against the residents of Cite Soleil. There is more to this than just the issue of gangs and alleged kidnappers."

Mr Preval was elected last February in elections organised by the UN. The election followed two years of rule by an interim government, imposed by the US, France and Canada following the ousting of President Jean-Betrand Aristide, who had been elected to office for a second term in November 2000. Some of his opponents received backing and support from elements in Washington. Mr Aristide is currently living in South Africa.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Where the Money Goes

The Peoria Pundit took a swipe at OSF this morning. This site is self-explanatory.