Peoria Journal Star, The (IL)
August 27, 2002
A chance to survive -- Haitian Hearts program provides child's surgery
PEORIA - With his aunt and cousin at his bedside, a 7-month-old Haitian baby struggled for breath Monday as he recovered from heart surgery at The Children's Hospital at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center.
''He's a survivor,'' said Janet Knepp, a Haitian Hearts supporter who has cared for the baby, Dan-Samuel Valbrun.
Samuel's cousin, 32-year-old nursing student Myrtho Dupresil of Jersey City, N.J., said hospitals in New Jersey turned her down when she asked them to provide the lifesaving surgery that the baby needed.
A friend of a friend in Haiti knew of Dr. John Carroll, the Peoria physician who founded the Haitian Hearts program, she said.
''He saw the baby and said surgery was needed or he would die. They brought him here,'' Dupresil said.
Samuel is one of 90 Haitian children whom Carroll has brought to the U.S. for surgery and post-operative care unavailable in Haiti. The charity program has been supported by donations and fund-raisers.
Doctors donate their surgical skills, and the hospital, usually St. Francis in Peoria, has supported the effort in various ways, lately by offering discounts to Haitian Hearts patients.
Asked about the ethics of spending scarce medical resources on a few very sick children, Carroll questioned whether medical spending should be a matter of selecting priorities.
''The money is there in our society,'' he said. ''The technology is there. The will is there, among the nurses, the physicians, the providers, and we should be doing this. There's no reason every hospital in the U.S. could not help out'' by providing this type of care.
Dr. Gary Raff performed heart surgery on Samuel that repaired a congenital defect complicated by the reversal of his abdominal organs. He had suffered oxygen deprivation since birth, Carroll said, and his body still is adjusting to the repairs.
His prognosis is guarded, Carroll said. ''He doesn't have a normal heart and may need further corrective surgery but the (procedure) helped him and raised (his) oxygen levels. Every day is a big day for Samuel. He fights a bunch of little battles every day.''
Dupresil and the baby's aunt, Anchise Valbrun of Haiti, arrived last week. They're leaving today but Dupresil is adopting Samuel to keep him in the U.S. for additional medical care.
Samuel arrived in Peoria on June 29, and was cared for by a registered nurse in the Haitian Hearts program until a family emergency sent him to live with the Knepps.
The surgery and its difficult recovery were only the latest travail for Samuel.
Tears filled Knepp's eyes as she described how Samuel awoke early Aug. 3, was fed, then suddenly stopped breathing. Knepp said she called for her husband, dialed 9-1-1 then watched in amazement as the couple's 17-year-old daughter, Sarah Knepp, who had been asleep, awoke and administered CPR, saving Samuel's life.
Sarah had been a lifeguard, Knepp said, but had never saved a life at the pool.
Knepp had gone to Haiti with Carroll, had taken Samuel from his mother, Rosemond Valbrun, and held him on the flight back to Peoria. ''I was the one who carried him home. I took him from his mother. Nothing could happen to him,'' she said.
Samuel is the Knepp family's fifth Haitian child in the program. ''You can tell your (own) kids about helping others but until they experience it,'' she said, they won't understand.
Samuel's birth in Haiti was also difficult. He is the only child of Rosemond Valbrun, a 40-year-old single mother, Dupresil said. Just before her due date, the mother collapsed and had to be resuscitated, Dupresil said.
Samuel immediately had breathing problems because of his heart difficulties, and spent most of the spring in Haitian hospitals on oxygen.
Despite his medical problems, Samuel is bright and friendly, Knepp said. He says ''da-da'' and smiles, and plays with toys. He weights only 11 pounds, but has gained weight since arriving in central Illinois.
''They're big challenges,'' Carroll said of the Haitian children. ''It takes courage to take care of them.''
CAPTION: Dan-Samuel Valbrun
CAPTION: Myrtho Dupresil, left, of New Jersey and Anchise Valbrun, of Haiti smile at 7-month-old Dan-Samuel Valbrun as he lies beneath an oxygen hood at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center's pediatric's intensive care unit Monday morning. Dupresil found the Haitian Hearts Program while desperately trying to find a way to get her tiny second-cousin life-saving medical treatment unavailable in Haiti. Samuel was born with a defective heart and other serious health problems. Dupresil and Valbrun, Samuel's aunt, came to Peoria last Friday before his heart operation.
1. At the clinic in Haiti in June, Samuel was brought to me. He had congenital heart disease. I examined him and reviewed his echocardiogram. I called Dr. Dale Geiss, our excellent pediatric heart surgeon in Peoria. He told me that if I did not bring Samuel, the baby would die.
2. We returned to Peoria with Samuel and with other kids that needed heart surgery on June 29, 2002.
3. Samuel had his appointment with the pediatric cardiologist soon after we arrived in Peoria. His cardiologist recommended surgery within the week.
4. Samuel’s host mom was pediatric cardiac intensive care nurse at OSF. She was pleading that Samuel be operated quickly.
5. However, weeks went by, and Samuel was not operated.
6. At about 6 AM on August 3, 2002, I received a phone call. On the other end of the line was Janet Knepp who was hysterical and screaming that Samuel had just quit breathing and her daughter was doing CPR. They lived 25 miles from Peoria and called the local volunteer ambulance service. I told Janet to continue all support and that I would meet them in the OSF-ER.
7. As I quickly drove down Main Street in Peoria, I was planning Samuel’s funeral. How terrible and sad, I thought. I felt physically ill.
8. Waiting in the OSF ER for the arrival of the ambulance was torture for many reasons. Finally, the squad arrived and we descended on the big white stretcher with Samuel’s little brown body in the middle. However, as I looked at him, I heard him make a whimper.
9. Samuel was alive and trying to breathe. His eyes opened and, even though his gaze was divergent, he was looking around.
10. In the ER we supported him with oxygen and an IV and admitted him to pediatric cardiac intensive care.
11. As the days went by, Janet Knepp and I told Paul Kramer, Executive Director of Children’s Hospital, how upset we were with the delay in Samuel’s surgery and his subsequent arrest.
12. Samuel was stabilized and operated at OSF Children’s Hospital of Illinois.
13. I met with Monsignor Steven Rohlfs of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria to report Samuel’s neglectful care at OSF. Monsignor Rohlfs responded, “If it ever happens again, let me know.” That was it.