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Three Haitian boys needing life-saving heart surgery require host families in Toronto

Haiti Cardiac Alliance is searching for people to take in three preschoolers as they recover from complex heart surgeries at SickKids hospital.

Kervens Jeannot (left), David Smith Millien (centre), and Roobens Thelusma (right) each need surgery to repair holes in their hearts, and a host family to stay with while they recover.

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Kervens Jeannot (left), David Smith Millien (centre), and Roobens Thelusma (right) each need surgery to repair holes in their hearts, and a host family to stay with while they recover.

Owen Robinson is desperate to find host families in Toronto for three boys with congenital heart defects from Haiti who need life-saving surgery.

Robinson’s organization, Haiti Cardiac Alliance, is helping the children, aged three to four years old, find treatment outside Haiti. The group has helped 300 Haitian kids get heart surgeries at hospitals all over the U.S. and the Caribbean since it began in July 2013.

But the operations for these three boys, who all have holes in their hearts, are difficult and no hospital the group normally goes to has been willing to take the cases on.

That’s when SickKids Hospital agreed to step in and do the surgeries with the help of the Herbie Fund, which offers financial support to children worldwide who require specialized care.

“If these kids don’t get treatment in Toronto, I can say with a fair degree of confidence they’re not going to be able to access treatment at all,” Robinson said. “It would very literally be life-saving.”

But SickKids can only do the operations as long as the kids have a place to recover once they are discharged from the hospital. And finding the boys a place to stay has proven to be tricky.

“In the United States we have some solid connections with organizations and they help us welcome these families into their community, but in Toronto we don’t have that,” Robinson said.

In July, he asked for help from Mark Brender, an old friend and the national director of Partners in Health Canada.

Brender recently contacted the Haitian consulate in Toronto in the hopes that someone from the community would be willing to help the boys: Roobens Thelusma, David Smith Millien, and Kervens Jeannot.

But they are still waiting for responses.

“If there’s care available, it shouldn’t be limited to where you are born and if you have the funds,” Brender said.

He’s hoping a Haitian family will offer to help, to make communicating with the visitors easier, but said that “anybody could step up”.

SickKids Hospital in downtown Toronto, where the boys will receive their surgeries.

Richard Lautens/Torstar News Service

SickKids Hospital in downtown Toronto, where the boys will receive their surgeries.

Robinson is searching for people to take in one child and one parent at a time. A social worker would accompany the family for the first week to help them get settled and translate for them. The family would need to stay in Toronto for one or two months during the recovery period. The surgery would take place about a week after their arrival, and they would spend the next week or two at the hospital, he said.

The families only speak French and Haitian Creole. Robinson said that while it would be helpful, the host family and volunteers don’t have to speak the language. Tools like Google translate, phrasebooks, or social workers who are available by phone could help bridge the language gap.

The hosts and volunteers would be expected to provide the family with transportation to and from the hospital, food or the means for the parent to cook, and a warm and supportive environment. The child’s parent would take care of the medical aspects of caring for the child.

“If the child had been born in the U.S. or Canada, (the heart problem) would have been repaired in the first few months of the child’s life, but these kids are three or four years old now,” Robinson said. “We have situations all the time where a child’s been selected somewhere and they die before they can go, it just takes too long.”

Anyone interested in helping can contact Robinson at orobinson@haiticardiac.org

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