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#816 Mom loses son again: `He doesn't recognize me' (fwd)


Published Wednesday, October 27, 1999, in the Miami Herald 

 Mom loses son again: `He doesn't recognize me'---- BY SHARI RUDAVSKY

 Joassaint Estinville left his mother for the first time two years ago
when he sailed from Haiti, hoping to find a better life in the United
States. He kept in touch, sending his mother updates on cassettes that
chronicled his life in a Fort Lauderdale foster home, his plans to learn
English and find a job. Now, his mother, Victoria Adrage, fears she has
lost Joassaint forever. Two months ago, on a dark Fort Lauderdale
street, a car plowed into the 17-year-old's bicycle. He lay in a coma at
Broward General Medical Center while hospital staff and police wondered
why no parent came forward to claim him. After some miscommunication and
confusion, the Florida Department of Children and Families identified
Joassaint as one of their own. Four weeks ago, they flew
 Adrage to the United States to sit vigil at her son's side.

 ``He doesn't recognize me at all,'' Adrage, a petite woman with graying
hair, said through an interpreter. ``It's very hard. It hurts me
physically.'' Although Adrage had never left Haiti before, when the
offer came to travel to the United States, she did not waver. ``He's a
child out of my loins,'' she said. Nearly two months after the accident,
Joassaint's condition remains unchanged. He can't eat or walk. His eyes
are open, but he doesn't respond. Hospital staff said the next step
would be a transfer to a long-term care facility. ``Based on the medical
recommendations and information as to his status, we
 will place him in the best setting to meet his needs,'' said Lynette
Beal, a department spokeswoman. Adrage would like to be by his side to
see that happen. She'd even like to emigrate to help out her eight other
children, back in Haiti. Of all her children, Joassaint was the
responsible one. From a young age, he looked after his younger siblings.
He attended school regularly. ``He's the one who used to give his mother
hope,'' said Marvin Dejean, vice president of marketing for Minority
Development & Empowerment, a social service agency for Haitians. The
agency has provided lodging, translators and transportation for Adrage.

 Adrage spends most days and nights by Joassaint's bed, wiping his lips
and warm brow. ``He has grown a lot. His face has changed. He has become
more manly,'' she said. If he could talk to his mother, what would he
say? In the audiocassettes, he has described why he left one day when
she was in another village taking care of her sick mother. He described
the horrific journey -- watching people die, going a week without
eating. He told her that when he arrived, he lived on the streets until
a Haitian family took him in. And then he told her that family handed
him over to foster care, uncomfortable with him living in their home
with their two young daughters. She has met the caseworker who looked
after him in foster care, the woman who, on her vacation to Haiti, took
sneakers and pictures to his family at Joassaint's request.
 But then there are the things she doesn't know. Where he was going that
night; what he wants to be when he grows up; why it took the department
five days to identify him. After the incident, the department
strengthened its runaway policy to ensure that other children do not
fall through the cracks. And for Adrage, all these questions pale in
comparison to the prospect of returning to Haiti while her son lies here
-- his eyes open but his life shut. ``He left her when he was alive,
full of life, and promise, and the idea of her having to return to Haiti
with him half-comatose is more than she can bear,'' Dejean said.