Dallas doctors bring hope to Haitian children

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by MONIKA DIAZ

WFAA

Posted on January 27, 2011 at 3:30 PM

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Ten months after a powerful earthquake struck Haiti, News 8 traveled back to a country far from rebuilding.

Devastation still lines the streets of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Piles of rubble, collapsed buildings and tent cities dot every corner of the city.

Signs of hope are hard to find.

But at Hospital Espoir — the "hospital of hope" — the busy chatter of the waiting room fills the night sky. Families are waiting for a Dallas medical team and a chance to change their child's life.

Some traveled up to five hours in a bus to get to the medical facility for a meeting with doctors and nurses from the LEAP Foundation.

"We are here, straight from the airport, we are screening all the patients today; we're going to operate Saturday and Sunday, we'll be out of here on Monday," said LEAP Foundation founder Dr. Craig Hobar. "We saw some very complex cases. We saw a man with a very bad facial tumor. We're going to get a CAT scan on him."

Dr. Hobar said there was nothing the team could do for him on this trip, but they wanted to know what they could do for him in the future.

"The majority of what we're going to do is cleft lip and palate," he said, holding an infant. "Babies with this kind of problem can't speak so people can understand them. They become social outcasts because the other kids are afraid of them."

Seven-month-old Mythaina St. Clair was one of the first patients the Dallas LEAP doctors scheduled for surgery. Her parents were thrilled that their daughter was going to get help.

"A lot of people tell us we shouldn't even bother... to leave her somewhere else, on the side of the street. They tell us that she will not want to live," said Mirajoane Rue Abraham, Mythaina's mom through a translator. "We want to give her a normal life."

Patient after patient was approved for a surgical procedure, a medical gift for so many including Widjerry Joseph. The 14-year-old couldn't wait for his operation.

Less than 24 hours later, families began arriving for their surgeries. The Dallas team prepared for months for this mission. They brought in thousands of dollars in supplies, machines and tools.

"You want to make sure that you thought of ahead of time everything you needed to prepare, that you brought everything," said LEAP Foundation executive director Heather Early.

And in a of couple of hours, the operating room is ready to go.

Over two days, the medical team from North Texas operated on nine Haitian children, from Widjerry to Mithaina.

"I never expected her to look like this," said Herbert St. Clair, Mithaina's father through a translator. "I'm so surprised to see her looking like a normal child!"

Her parents couldn't stop staring at her. The surgeries do more than just change tiny faces.

"A lot of the time, the children are born with this deformity right away, families would see it as a curse," said Hospital Espoir director Gladys Thomas. "It opens up their minds, their intelligence, that, 'Wow, this is not a curse. This can happen to anybody and can be correctable.'"

Some of the patients will need follow-up surgeries. LEAP has promised every family that they will come back and finish the job.

"Changing a kid's life... I will never, never get tired of that," Dr. Hobar said. "I will never get tired of that in Dallas; I will never get tired of that in Haiti; I will never get tired of that in Africa."

And as the weekend came to an end, songs of praise from a church next door echoed through the hallways of Hospital Espoir, where hope prevailed — delivered from Dallas to a city overwhelmed with despair.

E-mail mdiaz@wfaa.com

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