Next question. Have you ever prayed about something really hard, for a long time, with the confidence that God would hear and respond only to be completely blown away by just how He responded? Well, this weekend blew me away and i'd like to tell you about it.
First, let me introduce you to Loudjenca. Pictured below are her mother and father, Jertrude and Jonas.
I first met this family back in November. I was at our local hospital with a few of our children. I'd brought them there to be evaluated for various conditions by a visiting team of cardiologists and surgeons. Thankfully all went well for our kids and they weren't diagnosed with any major problems. Early that morning baby Loudjenca was evaluated by these same physicians. Her prognosis wasn't as promising. Jertrude and Jonas were told that their daughter had a serious heart condition and that surgery was their only hope. They'd never met me before nor did they have any idea what sort of help I'd be able to provide but, they were desperate. Hoping to offer their daughter a chance at life they introduced themselves and repeated what they'd been told. Did I have any connections? Could I help? We exchanged numbers and I promised to look into things. I figured I could at least email some people in the states and see what might come of it. A medical visa was a long shot...but not out of the question.
It's interesting. I am approached by a lot of parents who come telling tales of sick babies and sad situations. I've wondered in the past just how I'd be able to discern who to help, which cases to pursue. Thankfully, Loudjenca's parents pursued me. Within the week, Jertrude had called me a few times and even stopped by our place in Lagosette. It was obvious that Jertrude was going to fight for her daughter. I decided to fight too.
Haiti has neither the surgical facilities nor the surgeons to perform complex heart surgeries on children. Most children in Haiti with congenital heart defects don't make it. As I think back on the "heart babies" we've lost within the year I wish I wasn't so familiar with the truth of that statement. Precious Loudjenca is one of the fortunate ones simply because her parents had the means to travel to various hospitals for consultation. To receive treatment however, Loudjenca would have to leave the country.
To get a baby out of Haiti on a medical visa you need to have a letter written by a Haitian physician which states that absolutely nothing can be done in Haiti to treat the condition. You need documentation that the correct medical tests and scans have been performed to arrive at an appropriate diagnosis. You need a hospital and physician willing to provide free care, or a donor willing to cover the costs. You need a host family or housing to care for and accommodate the baby before and after surgery. You need a passport for the child and if possible their parents. This can prove most difficult. It was the day that Loudjenca's mother showed up a COTP carrying a manilla folder with some of the most important documents already completed that things really began looking hopeful. Loudjenca's mother and father had even made a risky trip into the DR so that she could have her heart evaluated via an echocardiogram at a state-of-the-art children's hospital. The echocardiogram results showed that she had a large hole in her heart between the two ventricles. As a result Loudjenca wasn't thriving. In November, at 3 months of age she weighed 7 lbs 10 oz. Her oxygen saturation was an unimpressive 72%. Surgery felt like an urgent need.
So we got started on passport paperwork and began hunting down heart surgeons. In enters Karen G. Karen is an amazing woman with a passion for getting kids life saving medical treatment. A few months prior Karen had made contact with the International Children's Heart Foundation. As it turns out this organization was sending a team of pediatric heart surgeons to Hospital Infantil, a children's hospital in Santiago, Dominican Republic. This was the same hospital that Loudjenca and her mother had traveled to for initial diagnosis. The team was set to arrive February 12th and would finish up on the 26th. Karen began a flurry of emails. What were the chances of Loudjenca receiving surgery in the DR in February.
Eventually we got confirmation from people involved with ICHF. They'd be happy to evaluate and operate on Loudjenca if indicated. Traveling to the DR for heart surgery seemed like the perfect solution for Loudjenca save for the fact that all parties would need passports. We faced many setbacks in the passport process...February 3rd, 4th, 5th...days ticked by. Our DR departure date was quickly approaching and here I'm the only one with a passport. My heart's just fine, thank you.
Somehow, God connected us to a man by the name of John H. John is a social worker and missionary in the DR. He'd recently helped two Dominican children obtain heart surgery through ICHF. He knew the doctors and also had many connections with officials in various consulates, embassies, and immigration offices in the Dominican, Port-au-Prince, and Cap Haitien. I don't know how he did it, or why he went to so much trouble to help, but John set out to obtain special clearance that would allow Loudjenca and her mother to enter the DR and travel to the hospital without passports.
For about a week and a 1/2 we didn't know when we were going to be able to enter the DR or how. For myself, Karen, John, and Rony (one of our Haitian adoption office workers) our days consisted of phone calls, letters, meetings, emails, lots of waiting, and prayer like you wouldn't believe. I'm thankful for Jenn. I can't count the number of times she sat and prayed with me for Loudjenca and the process. I often interrupted her during the day 3 or 4 times even. I'm sure she became good at recognizing my can-we-please-pray-for-Loudjenca face.
The surgical team had already been at Hospital Infantil for five days and we were still waiting for "authorization." I was beginning to worry that they might be completely booked solid with surgeries or that we wouldn't have enough time to complete all the pre-op tests and procedures as the days slipped by. I was just about ready to pack up the team and bribe my way into the country when I got the email from John that said everything was ready. We could enter the DR on Friday the 18th. I cried. I sat in front of my computer and shed a few happy tears. It felt so good to hear God say Yes, Yes I'm looking after Loudjenca, Yes you can go to the DR, Yes I've answered your prayers.
By this time, Jonas, Loudjenca's father had also been able to obtain both a passport and a visa. This was a surprise gift from God. I was shocked to hear the news that Jonas' passport had been printed and signed. Knowing that he would also be able to make this trip was such a blessing. He speaks excellent Spanish!
I know this has been a long story so far with far too many details.. but I think the details are important. God cares about the details, obviously. He cares about the hole in a 7 lb baby's heart and about the paperwork that lets her enter another country for medical care. Anyway, the story just gets better from here. I'm for real.
Friday morning was a rainy day, but it was a great day. Jenn had decided to go with me to the DR (someday I'll have to write a blog post purely dedicated to Jenn but basically she is another volunteer at COTP and we've become quite good friends. God clearly wanted it that way and we are both secretly extremely thankful). It was so much fun to share this experience with her and God revealed a lot to both of us during this trip. Rikerns drove us all in the red truck. After we picked up Rony, who had planned to tag along and help with what could easily become a difficult border crossing, we drove to Loudjenca's house. The three, plus baby, sat in the back. I wonder if they noticed how many glances I stole in the rearview mirror. Or how many times I turned around to smile at them. I just couldn't stop smiling. It was great to see Rony, an instrumental part of the process sitting next to the two expectant parents and baby Loudjenca, the reason for all of this madness.
We arrived at the border and things went relatively well. Rony talked our way through various Haitian checkpoints and chained gates until we'd made it to the DR side. There were plenty of opportunities for people to prevent Loudjenca and Jertrude from passing without passports, but it seemed that God softened hearts in the end and we were permitted to pass. At the Dominican entrance we were met by some gatekeepers that had obviously been told to watch out for this Haitian mom and baby and their American companion. We were directed into an office where we were issued our "special authorization." It was amazing seeing my Haitian family receive special treatment. I just never see that... none of my Haitian friends ever receive special treatment. It felt as if I was watching justice play out. Jertrude had tried to bring Loudjenca into the DR for an appointment the previous month. She was faced with the option of paying a ridiculous sum of money for the cause of corruption or turning around and heading back to Haiti. She chose the later. Now she was legally passing into the country and nobody was able to take advantage of her.
John had arranged for some missionary friends of his to pick us up when we were finished with immigration. They were waiting! We embarked on our 3 hour drive to Santiago. We passed at least 10 military checkpoints. Each time an armed man stopped our vehicle with the intent of checking passports I flashed our authorized document and our new missionary friend rattled off some sweetly constructed line about the baby and her sick heart. We were waved ahead everytime.
We arrived at the hospital at around 3 pm in the afternoon. Loudjenca's parents checked her in at the emergency room and were told that Monday morning would be a better time to come for an appointment. Not wanting to waste a moment I headed off to find those heart surgeons. By the grace of God I stumbled right into them. As I entered the main lobby I walked straight into an important looking group of English speaking professionals in lab coats giving a fundraising presentation about heart surgery for underserved children. Now I couldn't have been 100% sure but I was about 99% sure that one of these people would be able to help me. I suppose I became 100% sure when I was able to identify Dr. Ramirez, whom I knew to be the head cardiologist, by reading the inscription on his lab coat.
When I told a woman that I was here with a baby to be evaluated she responded immediately and sent one of the doctors to speak with me. They'd been waiting for us, he said. They would do an echo, now. Could I bring the baby, I asked. Of coarse, he responded. I literally sprinted to the emergency room on the other side of the hospital where I had left Loudjenca and her parents. Maybe I was afraid he'd change his mind about helping us if I didn't reappear with the child in a matter of seconds. A ridiculous thought, I know. He was still waiting. They took us upstairs and right away a doctor began the Echo. Now, I know you all might be used to this kind of prompt service but I've been operating in the Haitian health care system for awhile now and we wait all day, we get turned away, we hear the words "no," "not today," and "pay first," quite often. It was so refreshing to be assisted by people who seemed like they truly cared. A chorus of medical students surrounded Loudjenca during the Echo and held fun toys in front of her face to keep her cooing.
Then the doctor said 3 monumental words. We won't operate. Uhoh, I thought. Why? It didn't sink in until I heard the phrase repeated in Spanish. She doesn't need surgery. And then in Creole. Yo pa bezwen opere. She doesn't need surgery!
I walked closer to Loudjenca's Dad and he asked me if I'd heard to good news. Yes, I'd heard it and it was great news and Loudjenca's mom was smiling and so were many of the medical students. But for a second I was worried that maybe Loudjenca's mom would be upset that her daughter was now not going to receive surgery. Boy was I wrong!
Outside of the exam room. I was sitting with Jonas and Jertrude, and Loudjenca on my lap. Jertrude was lifting her hands and thanking God. She was praising the eternal Savior, her Lord. She said to me, "Amy I prayed for that! I prayed that when we arrived we would hear that she didn't need surgery anymore." That blew me away! God blew me away!
Here I was praying for the passports and our arrival and for God to keep her safe until surgery. But I never once thought to pray that she wouldn't even need surgery, period! The Lord gave us all such a wonderful gift that day. Not only the gift of life for Loudjenca and the gift of healing for her heart, but it was such a gift to be able to experience the power of his love like that...it was incredible. Well I've tried to describe it for you all but maybe I just can't. It was just too good. Too rich...too holy.
Not long after hearing the news we all jumped in a taxi together. By this time Jenn had joined us. She wasn't able to join us in the car and instead took a bus from Dajabon to Santiago. She made it to the hospital, despite Spanish language skills or a cell phone. Wow was I glad to see her!
We drove to a hotel and spent the night. The next morning the family was able to head home to Cap Haitien. There was nothing else to be done at the hospital. No more reason to be in the DR. We spent some time with healthy, happy, 12 lb Loudjenca in the lobby of the hotel before the family jumped back on the bus.
Jonas and Jertrude ate breakfast.
Jenn worked diligently, hoping to catch just one of Loudjenca's perfect smiles on camera.
I learned so much this weekend. I've experienced a ton of answered prayer recently. Literally, tons. I've developed these thoughts as a result. God doesn't need us to pray. He plan is not a function of whether or not we come up with good ideas and shoot them skyward. He will work things out for our good regardless o whether or not we take the time to ask him. But... when I do pray, I am able to reflect upon the "requests" I make and the situations I surrender before his throne... and the way he answers. Then, as I begin to recognize how God is working in my heart and in the people and situations I'm praying about it enriches my life and gives roots to my faith. I find that the more we pray the more I am filled with joy, gratitude, amazement, and thanksgiving. I'm pretty sure that busting at the seams with these four things may just make for a happy day, everyday.