‘Mini airlift’ brings 3 Haitian kids to hospital

‘It’s going to be life-changing for them,’ says pediatrician who helped arrange the children’s trip.

A holiday mood rippled through the small crowd gathered at Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

“I’m excited,” a woman said.

“My stomach is flip-flopping,” said another.

All eyes fixed on the passengers streaming into the Grand Rapids, Michigan, airport. They searched for three small visitors―children from Haiti in need of medical care.

“We’ve been working on this a long time,” said Jeri Kessenich, MD, a pediatrician at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital who helped arrange for their medical care.

“Here they come,” a young woman said.

In moments, the children appeared in the corridor, accompanied by Helen Salan, the director of the Ohio and Michigan chapter of Healing the Children.

It will be even bigger when they are well and can go home and see their families.

Jeri Kessenich, MD
Pediatric hospitalist

A host family soon surrounded each child. They gave small gifts and introduced themselves with the help of interpreters. And they did their best to communicate in the universal language of smiles.

The “mini airlift” warmed Salan’s heart. The three children will receive medical treatment at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital that they desperately need but can’t get at home.

All three are 6 years old and have different medical needs.

Melissa Seide was just 1 year old when she sustained leg injuries in the 2010 earthquake. The tibia in her calf protrudes at almost a right angle. She arrived in a wheelchair because she can walk only short distances.

Eric and Betsy Miedema and their children, Alaina, 7, and Evan, 9, greeted Melissa with a sign that said “Welcome” in English and Creole. This is the first time the family is hosting a child for Healing the Children.

“We just felt God placed it on our hearts about a year or two ago (to host a child),” Betsy said. “We prayed a lot about it.”

Soon, Alaina and Melissa sat side by side in the wheelchair, laughing as Eric pushed them through the airport.

Dessources Cadet has congenital cataracts that obscure his vision. His host parents, Donna and Al DeWeerd, met him with a soccer ball.

“We heard he likes soccer,” Al said.

Veteran hosts for Healing the Children, the DeWeerds came to the airport accompanied by their daughter, Kim Vredevoogd, and her children, Ellie, 8, and 6-year-old twins, Arie and Olivia.

Translator Karen See introduced Dessources (pronounced Desus) to his host family.

“You’re going to be very happy and comfortable at their house,” she said in Creole. “They are going to take good care of you and take you to the hospital.”

Chrisnaldo Mozeau needs treatment for a urological issue.

It didn’t take long for him to feel at ease with his host parents, Carol and Bryan Nyeholt, and their three children.

He clung to Carol’s side for a few minutes. But then he started to play with a toy fire truck. He moved to a table and rolled it across, listening to its siren wail.

‘It brings out the best in everybody’

Dr. Kessenich, a pediatrician at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, helped make the connection between Melissa and Chrisnaldo and their care in Grand Rapids.

She is one of several Spectrum Health employees who formed a school in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010―the Power of Education Foundation, in Fontamara, a neighborhood of Port au Prince. The medical director for the organization, Dr. Kessenich visits a couple of times a year and works in its clinic.

When she learned the two children needed specialized care, she contacted administrators at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and pediatric specialists, who readily volunteered to provide treatment.

Around the same time, pediatric ophthalmologist Patrick Droste, MD, met Dessources during a mission trip to Haiti. He contacted Healing the Children, which helped arrange for treatment for his cataracts.

Urologist Brian Roelof, MD, will care for Chrisnaldo. Orthopedist Jeffrey Cassidy, MD, will treat Melissa. And ophthalmologist Brooke Geddie, DO, will care for Dessources.

“It’s going to be life-changing for them,” said Dr. Kessenich, as she watched the kids, wide-eyed with wonder at the crowd milling around them. “It will be even bigger when they are well and can go home and see their families.”

Healing the Children arranged the flights for the children, found host families and helped with the extensive process involved in getting travel visas.

Each step of the way, volunteers came forward with enthusiasm.

“The docs love doing this,” Salan said. “The host families are just eager to take care of the children. We have had translators coming out of the woodwork.

“It brings out the best in everybody, because everybody wants to be part of it and support it in some way.”

Learn more about the services offered at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

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