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#4756: Haitian girl left to die is rescued (fwd)
Published Thursday, August 3, 2000, in the Miami Herald
Haitian girl left to die is rescued BY YVES COLON Herald Staff Writer
Marie-Ange's family left her to die in Haiti. In a way, it may have
saved her life. The little girl was rescued by a group run by former
Playboy playmate Susan Krabacher, who found her with a purplish
growth the size of an eggplant between her arm and chest. One doctor in
Haiti recommended cutting off her left arm. Instead, the group brought
her to Naples, Fla., last week, her guardians hoping that doctors in
the United States would know how to cure her. Experts there were
puzzled. Now, Marie-Ange is in intensive care at Miami Children's
Hospital, and doctors there are still trying to figure it out, too.
``They're trying to rule out everything before they can pinpoint what
it is,'' said Melissa Hancock, a nurse from Naples who volunteers at the
orphanage in Haiti and brought Marie-Ange to her home last week.
``They have to figure out what is not before they figure out what is.'
Hancock fears Marie-Ange might need a heart transplant.
Marie-Ange Duversaint was airlifted to Miami on Saturday, shortly after
her frail system collapsed. Her weak heart muscles could not pump enough
blood through her body. Doctors got it to work again, with tubes and
machines above her hospital bed doing most of the work her organs cannot
do. She groans when doctors shift her skinny frame on the bed but
otherwise says few words. ``She's so hungry, all she says is `grangou,
grangou' -- I'm hungry,'' said Hancock, who has been keeping vigil by
Marie-Ange's bed for the past four days, shuttling between Miami and her
family in Naples. Another volunteer, Tracy Chapman, who lives in
Virginia, relieves her today. ``She's already been abandoned once, and I
don't want her to feel that way again.'' Marie-Ange may survive her
ordeal, and her future is as uncertain. ``She's a complete train
wreck,'' Krabacher said.
Hancock got to know Marie-Ange through Krabacher and her organization,
Foundation for Worldwide Mercy and Sharing. A former Playboy model,
Krabacher cares for more than 1,600 children at five orphanages, six
schools and two medical clinics in Haiti at a cost of $12,000 a month.
While she spends most of her time fundraising, Krabacher, who lives in
Aspen, Colo., with her lawyer husband, spends about three months in
Haiti, often in Cite Soley, a teeming slum in the capital. Thousands of
abandoned children are found throughout Haiti, yet there are no
public agencies to care for them. Over the years, U.S. religious
groups, along with a few run by Haitian Americans in this country, have
tried to fill that gap. An emergency-room nurse at North Collier
Hospital, Hancock made her first trip to Haiti in February, when she
volunteered to help her church immunize 28 children there. ``I fell in
love with every single one of them,'' she said.
FOUND AT HOSPITAL
Then she read a story about Krabacher's work. Hancock accompanied the
group in June, bringing with them 30,000 pounds of medical supples,
food, diapers, clothes and toys. That's when she met Marie-Ange. They
had found her at a community hospital, where family members had
abandoned her under the name Vanessa and left her to die. The little
girl, who everyone says looks like the actress/singer Vanessa L.
Williams, told Krabacher and the others that she was about 10 years old
and that her last name was Duversaint. She said an aunt had shut her in
a closet for a week, trying to starve her, because the aunt thought she
had cancer and was going to die. The aunt didn't want to waste food on
her. Between visits, Hancock noticed that the lump kept getting bigger.
NO FOOD OR WATER
First, the orphanage put her on anti-inflammatory medication, cutting
her off from food and water. ``She screamed, `Why me, why, why are you
doing this to me, I've been good to you, why are you trying to starve
me,' '' Hancock said. Nothing worked. They took her to a pediatrician,
who suggested amputating the arm. An orthopedic surgeon thought it could
be a congenital defect, or an abnormality in the bone and skin growth.
But they didn't have the equipment for tests. People everywhere, from
the U.S. Embassy to American Airlines, worked to get her to Florida as
quickly as possible. She ate pizza, snow cones and drank Gatorade. Then
came the medical emergency. ``It's like we brought her here, and we
opened a Pandora's box,'' Chapman said. ``The good got better, and the
bad got worse. It hit her head-on.'' Krabacher and the others are
hopeful that once Marie-Ange gets well, someone will decide to adopt
her. ``I'd love to see that happen, so she can get fed, loved, to have
someone touch her,'' Hancock said. ``She needs to be a child, go to
school, have friends, be happy, cared for and loved.''