Haiti earthquake diary: 2-month-old baby Jenni is rescued

A 2-month-old baby girl is found alive among the ruins of a house. After we rush her to a UN triage unit, Jenni becomes the first Haitian to be accepted into the US for treatment.

By , Correspondent

Saturday, Jan. 16.

A few hours later Lara Coger of ABC-TV, and I are on our way back to the Hotel Ibolele. We're passing through the Canape Vert neighborhood when I notice someone on the left side of the road. He's standing on top of a huge pile of debris with a shovel or axe, and shouting to someone on my side of the street.

We’re slowed already because of traffic so I roll down the window and ask, "What’s up?" The guy on my side of the street says, "There’s a baby alive beneath the debris."

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I look again at the pile – it’s huge. I can’t say how tall it is in feet but it’s an entire hillside of rubble. "They need professionals," I say to Lara, "Let’s look for the number of some rescue squad to call."

But before I have a chance to pull out my phone, I hear the guy on top of the hill shout, "Li vivant, li vivant!" I see him running down the hill with a baby in his hands.

I’m out the car and running up the hill. I hope I looked across the street before I ran but I don’t remember. And then I am in the car, the baby cradled in my arms, and everyone around is saying, "Mezami, gade ti bebe a."

My heart is pounding. But really pounding, and my adrenaline is running at 220 volts. I’m not sure what I’ve just done but here I am with a baby that is breathing, that has somehow survived three and a half days under the rubble, and I’ve got him/her in my lap.

But where to go? Lara is calm and collected and directs Sanba, our driver, toward the airport, where the UN has set up a triage unit.

Sanba keeps it together, too, driving as quickly as possible through impossible traffic. Lara takes a piece of cloth and wets it, puts it by the baby’s mouth and the baby sucks. And sucks, and sucks some more.

The baby's nose and mouth and one eye need to be cleaned and it looks like she may have two head wounds. But she is breathing and at this point it’s all I care about. Her right eye is clear and she seems to be looking at me, seems to be alert, and I’m talking nonstop, telling her in English and Creole that it’s OK, that she’s safe now, that we’re going to get her to a place that will take care of her.

I’m panicked, really panicked that she is not going to make it. If she doesn't, then I will never get over it. Lara pours water on her face and she reacts beautifully, just the way she should, agitated and annoyed. She continues to suck, and when she stops I shake her a bit, put my head down close to her chest to make sure that she is still breathing.

The odor is intense. It’s not an odor of death, but it’s really unpleasant. Her clothes are now wet from the water, my pants and shirt also wet, and I know that I am going to smell the same as she does before we make it to the hospital.

We get stuck in a traffic jam and I am almost hyperventilating. When a UN vehicle passes, Lara tries to convince them to let us go with them. They say, "No." But they put on their lights and let us follow them. It’s now been 45 minutes and my anxiety is increasing by the minute. Unbearable.

We finally make it to the UN triage unit, and immediately they sit me down with the baby, listen to the situation and start to evaluate. They continue to keep her hydrated, then peel off her pants to get her into dry clothes.

Then she’s lifted from my arms and placed on a bed, surrounded by a team of doctors.

I feel an unbelievable sense of relief, and feel guilty for feeling relieved that I am no longer holding her.

By now the baby has a name – Jeanne. I appreciate that the staff, who it turns out are from the University of Miami, hasn’t wanted to give her a number.

I walk outside, trying to get a line to ABC, to tell them why we haven’t yet showed up at the hotel, and ask them again why they haven’t responded to Lara’s plea to get a camera crew to us.

It turns out they’d been trying, just had trouble finding where we were. On my way back to Baby Jeanne I see Alonzo Morning, tell him about the miracle baby. He just smiles and nods his head, says there is a reason she was meant to live.

Lara and I find Sanba and we make our way back to the ABC base. They love the story, want more on it. Right away, in fact, so I can’t even shower before I head back out with a crew to the site of the rescue to see if we can find the guy who pulled Jeanne from the rubble. And we do, almost immediately.

Pasteur Leni August saw the baby’s foot moving when he went to gather pieces of wood to use to help block off the streets at night. Within minutes he had moved enough debris to pull her out, and then I showed up.

Baby Jeanne’s parents had been in the house when it crashed, Pasteur Leni says. Her parents survived, but her grandmother was killed. Her uncle is here, too - Gilbert, and he says her mom, Nadine, thinks her baby is dead.

Things in Haiti hardly ever worked out so well. We exchange numbers, and I promise to be in touch so that Nadine can know where to visit her baby.

But when we get to the site of the triage unit, Baby Jeanne is gone.

She’d been sent out on a jet to Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport about an hour or two earlier. According to Karen Schneider, Pediatric Emergency Medical Physician at John Hopkins, she had an adrenaline rush that lasted about an hour, then she crashed.

They were able to stabilize her and when they found out that there was an empty jet headed to the States, Barth Green, who heads up the University of Miami team, was able to pull some strings and get her on the plane.

Jenni, as I later learned, is her real name. She is the first Haitian to be accepted into the US for treatment. Other countries had opened their doors to medical emergencies, but not the good old US of A. According to Karen, Jenni smiled at her when Karen said goodbye. That made me smile, too.

So I am wrong. The day isn’t so bad after all. Among all the tears, there really is something to smile about.

For all stories, blogs, and updates on Haiti after the earthquake, go to The Monitor's Haiti page.

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