The Story of Rosemarie
In Haiti, silver linings can be hard to come by. But recently a chance encounter with a determined doctor gave a little girl a second chance at a normal life.
Dr. Theodore Woo
In October, Dr. Woo, an ER doctor based in Cleveland, traveled to Haiti as a volunteer to aid Earthquake victims when he met a young burn victim named Rosemarie at a mobile clinic in Maniche, a rural village near Les Cayes. She was severely burned in a cooking fire, causing her arm and forearm to fuse to her chest, resulting in very little mobility of her upper body. She had received basic wound care at the time of the burn, but due to the earthquake the already limited healthcare available to Rosemarie’s family became nearly nonexistent. The young girl’s family had resigned themselves to the fact that Rosemarie would have to live with this debilitating injury for the rest of her life.
Weeks after returning home from his trip to Haiti, the image of Rosemarie remained ingrained in Dr. Woo’s memory, and he became determined to help her. However, in Haiti, a country with already limited resources, finding both Rosemarie and a surgeon capable of this type of specialized care could prove nearly impossible. But he was committed to find a way to help.
A Stroke of Luck
After reaching out to several Haiti-based health organizations, Dr. Woo found Project Medishare and wrote a brief email explaining the situation. This email was one of dozens he sent out, hoping someone would be able to help him find a solution. Project Medishare’s programs take place in the Central Plateau, an 8-hour drive from Maniche, however the very day we received Dr. Woo’s email, our team from the Central Plateau happened to be in the south of Haiti hosting mobile clinics for earthquake victims with our partners, Smallholders Farmers Alliance (SFA). Of all the remote villages that our team could have been in, they were precisely in Maniche – the same village where Dr. Woo met Rosemarie.
We agreed to help in any way we could. First, we faced the seemingly impossible task of finding Rosemarie’s family. Dr. Woo only had two photos of her injuries and a neighbor’s phone number, but no way of directly contacting her family. Our team set off on foot, photos in hand, showing them to anyone they crossed paths with. The search took a few hours, and we were miraculously able to locate her.
Project Medishare began to utilize our network throughout Haiti to help Rosemarie. A former Project Medishare volunteer helped us identify a specialty trained surgeon in Mirebalais who would be capable of performing this life-changing surgery to release her arm from her body so she could regain its use.
It Takes a Village
On November 10th, 2021, with the help of our partners at SFA, Rosemarie and her Uncle Maxo began the challenging trek to Mirebalais. A 45-minute car trip to the Les Cayes airport was followed by a 45-minute flight to Port-au-Prince. Sunrise Airways, a local Haitian airline, generously sponsored the flights for Rosemarie and her uncle. Upon their arrival in Port-Au-Prince, the two were transported to our partner hospital, Hospital Bernard Mevs (HBM), where they were hosted for the night.
The next morning they traveled by car for nearly two hours to Mirebalais so she could be seen by the specialist, Dr. Willy Jean Louis, at Zanmi Lasante Hospital. The doctor reported back to us with good news – he could in fact perform this life-changing surgery the following week.
On November 16, 2021, Rosemarie underwent successful surgery. She was hospitalized for four weeks of intensive inpatient care and rehabilitation after the surgery, and she was finally released on December 23rd, just in time to make the long journey home to celebrate Christmas with her family.
Then, the Stars Aligned
On February 15, 2022, Rosemarie was scheduled for a checkup, so she and Uncle Maxo were spending a night in the capital at HBM before departing for Mirebalais. Dr. Woo happened to be at HBM that very same night, as he was spending the week volunteering in the ER department. 5 months later, Dr. Woo and Rosemarie were reunited, and Dr. Woo was able to see in person, for the second time, the little girl who was given a second chance at life all thanks to his relentless determination. He shares with us that “the chance to see Rosemarie again and to see how far she’s come just keeps a smile in my heart. The chance to see her talk about school and tell me about her friends is a memory I’ll always have.”
Rosemarie and her family are doing well, and she is enrolled in school so she can thrive and learn for the first time ever thanks to our partners at Smallholders Farmers Alliance. Rosemarie will have one final surgery this summer, and in the meantime, Project Medishare is helping her family by providing food every month from a local market to ensure that she continues to heal from surgery with proper nutrition.
Rosemarie’s Uncle Maxo shared the impact this surgery will have on her with this special message (translated from Creole):
“This surgery has given to her a second chance at life because someone in her situation in a country like ours is usually overlooked. This surgery has given her a chance to be all that she can be, whatever her destiny is. A special thanks to everyone that helped her reach that stage in her life. The family will always be grateful to you all. You will always be in our prayers. Thank you is not enough, but you will always be blessed forever for generations to come.”
We want to extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone that helped us along the way. We could never have helped Rosemarie on our own – thank you for allowing us to seek out this silver lining.
To Dr. Woo: your commitment to finding and helping Rosemarie is awe-inspiring. We are so grateful to have met you, thank you for being such a generous and kind soul.