Haiti

CRS Donor Finds Herself on the Other End of Support in Haiti

Haiti mom

Mimose Dazouloute-Geffrard’s with Anna Pierre, her 97-year-old mother, at the St. Francois de Sales Hospital. Photo by Robyn Fieser/CRS

Mimose Dazouloute-Geffrard dropped bills into special collection trays for Catholic Relief Services during mass at her Clarksville, Maryland church over the years. She wrote a check after cities in her native Haiti were damaged by storms and flooding. She figured the money would be used to help CRS “do good work.”

She never imagined she would one day be the recipient of that work.

Then the ground shook in Haiti for about 35 seconds on January 12. Mimose, a nurse for the state of Maryland, pledged $20 a month for Haiti and checked in on her 97-year-old mother, Anna Pierre, in Haiti. Everything was fine, friends said, “your mother just has a blister between her toes,” Mimose remembers being told. A few days later, the blister was described as a little cut. But in the Haitian tradition of not giving bad news, the friends and neighbors caring for Mimose’s diabetic mother weren’t telling her the whole story.

“Then I got a call on Sunday night, we were about to sit down to dinner,” said Mimose. “A friend of the family, a woman who had been caring for my mother, told me the situation was complicated, that her foot was all black. And if someone in Haiti tells you the situation is complicated, it is complicated. I knew I had to go.”

It took four days to get to Haiti. On February 25 before dawn, Mimose arrived in Petit-Goave, a town two hours and 30 minutes south of the capital by road. She found her mother asleep in a wheelchair in the trash-laden yard of a local school.
She couldn’t unwrap the dirty bandage to see the foot. It was stuck to the skin. But the smell left no doubt.

“I knew we could not save the foot,” said Mimose.

That night, she made a bed by laying a piece of cardboard over bricks. She slept next to her mother. As the odor of her mother’s foot rose up, Mimose figured it was the first time in days that anyone had gotten that close to the woman.

Mimose stood in line the next morning at the U.S. Embassy. Bringing her mother home to Maryland was not an option, she was told. She went looking for the Navy hospital ship Comfort. But it was gone. She walked a few miles to a hospital run by the United Nations. Doctors there said her mother was too old and her medical condition too fragile to operate. She tried another hospital near the airport but it was not accepting new patients. By day’s end, Mimose was desperate.

“And then my husband Joseph called to say he had seen on television that the University of Maryland doctors were at the St. Francois de Sales Hospital,” she said. “It was a Godsend.”

The hospital, the oldest in Haiti, was almost entirely destroyed by the earthquake. CRS helped buy fuel for the hospital, recruited volunteers, procured an ambulance, and brought in truckloads of medicine. In the days and weeks after the earthquake, a steady rotation of doctors and nurses from the University of Maryland conducted up to 20 operations a day.
I met Mimose and her husband Joseph at the hospital two weeks after doctors from the University of Maryland removed Anna Pierre’s leg.

Through the bustle of an early morning registration, during which dozens of Haitians come looking for treatment of everyday ailments, it was easy to tell who had been there a while. People in wheelchairs languish in the sun. Children played in a courtyard. A tall woman in a strapless dress wandered around. She carried her broken arm, sprouting pins and needles, on a red, velvet pillow. Through a hallway to the right, I saw the remains of collapsed wards, baby cribs and IV kits still visible through gaps in the rubble.

Haiti patient

Anna Pierre, 97-year-old mother of CRS donor Mimose Dazouloute-Geffrard, clutches her rosary while recuperating at the St. Francois de Sales Hospital. Photo by Robyn Fieser/CRS

Amid it all, I found Mimose and Joseph at their mother’s bedside in one of the hospital’s medical tents. The two spend their days there alongside at least a dozen other Haitian families who are nursing their injured loved ones back to life.

Mimose bathes her mother, cooks for her and tends to her fevers. She sleeps at night on a slab of concrete next to a block of latrines. She carts a suitcase full of paperwork she’ll need for the visa, if she can get it, to take her mother home.

Two weeks after the surgery, Anna Pierre is doing well. She clings to her rosary beads and talks of seeing her granddaughter again.

“She is always saying that the Lord is going to take care of us. That our lives are in God’s hands,” said Joseph of Anna Pierre. “And I am beginning to believe it.”

Robyn Fieser is CRS communications officer for Latina America

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