Singing Anyway: Stories of Faith, Hope, & Love in the Fight Against Childhood Cancer
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What followed seems monumental compared to that simple conversation, but then, simple things often turn monumental in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Daily life is a hot, exhausting struggle. Money is scarce. Water is scarce. Food is scarce. And children die. Seven out of every Haitian children will pass away before their fifth birthday — 10 times the rate of the U.
The fortunate families get some kind of explanation. A proud, curious child with full cheeks, pouty lips and eyes as big as Haitian mountains, Chika had never exhibited health problems before.
She was fond of pushing around the boys at the orphanage, or diving into a second helping of rice and beans, or dancing wildly during church services to the beat of conga-driven devotions. Chika, 5, gets an MRI. But in late May , she sat next to Alain, with her drooping mouth and droop- ing eye, inside a dimly lit Port-au-Prince medical facility, awaiting the sole MRI ma- chine in their country.
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Alain had followed protocol: show up early and pay cash in advance U. Haiti has no private medical insurance to speak of. Finally, after several hours, a nurse emerged and told Chika to drink some syrup. It made her sleepy. She was carried through a door and placed inside the machine. Halfway through the process, Chika woke up, asking where she was.
More syrup was given. Again, she fell asleep. When the results were in, Alain was given the scan and a note. No explanation. He took them to a neurologist. Chika is baptized in as Haiti is recovering from its worst earthquake in nearly years. She is born on Jan. By the time he gets to the house, the baby is already in the world.
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Her mother, Rezulia Guerrier, is a tall, strong woman in her mids who sells small items in the street for money. Her father, Fedner Jeune the parents are not married , has experience with construction but, like many men in Haiti, looks for work and rarely finds it.
He is around and not around. On the third day of her life, Chika lies in bed with Rezulia in their one-room cinder-block house, taking shelter from the afternoon heat. At p. In seconds, the house splits in two and crumbles around them, leaving mother and child exposed like a cracked-open walnut.
Ten percent — almost a million people — will be left homeless, including Rezulia, Chika and her two older sisters. They spend that night in the sugar cane fields. The country is in ruins. It was not easy to get Chika into the U. Even with help from Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who had once visited our orphanage, it took several weeks of phone calls and filings. Getting a passport.
Medical affidavits. Securing an interview at the U. No one moves fast in Haiti, even for terminal illness.
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She arrived in Detroit late that night, wearing a pink dress and a white sweater and shivering from the air conditioning. In her time at the orphanage, Chika had always been curious. But this trip would test her sense of wonder. Every moment was a discovery. Every item was worth touching.
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When the elevator lifted — her first ride — she beamed as if watching a magic trick. That afternoon, she lay inside another MRI machine. The results left doctors skeptical. It was a brain tumor, a significant one, the kind often deemed not worth the risk of surgery. Days passed. They deliberated. On June 15, less than two weeks into her first trip out of Haiti — and not yet 4 feet tall — Chika was given a light blue gown, some yellow socks and an intravenous needle drip in the back of her hand.
She was rolled away to surgery and my wife, Janine, and I were handed a pager. Baby Chika is baptized. Her cinder-block house is rebuilt. As Haiti struggles to recover from the earthquake, Chika learns to walk and talk. She sleeps beside her mother atop a single mattress on the dirt floor, along with her two older sisters. They eat once a day. There is no electricity and no indoor plumbing. Chika is bathed in a bucket, with a can of water poured over her head. The water comes from a well on another property.
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Sometimes, when Rezulia goes to a muddy river to wash clothes, she takes Chika with her. Years later, Chika will claim to remember those journeys. Hugh Garton found malignant tissue wrapped throughout healthy tissue. In the operating room at Mott Hospital, the neurosurgeon, Dr.
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Hugh Garton, found himself dealing with a monster. He forced a smile.
It happens as she is giving birth to a son, inside the cinder-block house. The boy is born with her last breath. He enters the world as a motherless child. No one is called.