May 25, 2022, had been a very long day. Kristin Hamner, DR National Director, was guiding colleagues from Dominican Public Health door-to-door through El Batey, DR to fight measles and malaria outbreaks. She facilitated the administration of vaccinations to quell a nearby outbreak of measles and helped them teach folks how to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds to prevent the spread of malaria. Read her account of an unexpected and agonizing discovery.
We had come to the very last house. FFP and Health department staffs were exhausted, hungry and eager to get home to supper and a shower. At the last house, I was showing our visual aids on measles, the woman said, “I know a child who looks just like that.” Instantly, we realized that our long workday would not be ending just yet. But as we climbed into our vehicle, enlisted a guide and headed up the unfamiliar mountain road, little did we know that our Dominican-style three hand claps at Sonia’s door would launch FFP on a long and challenging, high-stakes, and-at least in retrospect-heaven-directed journey.
When we arrived, we saw two-year-old Anahis, and could tell she looked very sick and malnourished. I could see her racing heart through her chest and knew that she was in trouble. After seventeen years on this mission field, I have come to be known for my dogged gringa perseverance. I was able to wrangle an appointment with a pediatric cardiologist for the very next day.
An array of tests followed, and we were somberly told that Anahis’ heart had a large hole between its ventricles that should have been surgically repaired shortly after birth. The cardiologist said it was “probably too late” to correct it now.
He advised that Anahis should be seen at a more specialized clinic in the capital, Santo Domingo, but ominously repeated that “it may be too late.” Just two and too late! How could this be? Trying to look at that precious little one through God’s eyes, I felt as if God was saying to me, “Look at all that came together for you to even find Anahis; I never arrive too late.”
The Foundation for Peace decided to help with Anahis’ case. FFP paid for medical bills, tests, meds, a special diet–and even a few special treats along the way to make all the poking and prodding more tolerable. (It’s amazing how much a Dominican kid’s discomfort can be soothed by a scoop of strawberry ice cream!)
In June, right on God’s schedule, a short-term medical mission team from New York Technical Institute got to meet Anahis. They immediately started seeking a way to help: One of the meds she needed was prohibitively expensive in the Dominican Republic, but her “New York angels” found it at a much better price in the States, ordered it, and arranged for another mission team–this time coming down from National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC–to deliver it posthaste.
With these meds, Anahis improved dramatically and her joyful mom sent us videos. Her little girl who the family had suspected was mute was suddenly able to talk and sing. Her little girl who had barely had the energy to stand was now running and playing, even dancing. Alas, everyone but Anahis realized that this adult-strength medication was only a short-term fix. The clock was ticking, thunderously. Without open-heart surgery-and soon! –Anahis would likely not live to see her third birthday.
The desperately needed surgery was very expensive. And her mom and dad were desperately poor. Providentially, Yajaira, one of the DR Health Department nurses, was able to get them enrolled in health insurance. Through FFP’s connections with the hospital, we got them registered with the Social Services Department, which would help bring down some costs.
This humble agrarian family, who knew nothing about the capital city-let alone the many complex bureaucratic complexities of the healthcare system-needed someone to help them navigate these challenges. FFP’s motto is that we can’t do everything, but we’ll do anything. Coming alongside the Cabral family is one more example of our doing just that: recognizing the needs and filling the gaps.
Still, months went by as we waited for an opportunity for Anahis. We were stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of waiting . . . for months . . . desperately aware that time was slipping away for this precious child.
Then in October, we hosted a short-term mission team that included two Navy nurses, one of whom had worked on the USS Comfort, a floating hospital that would be docking at Santo Domingo in December. Lieutenant Blake Middleton worked tirelessly to communicate our need and we were scheduled for a consultation. We met with Dr. Mike Cunningham, a Pediatric Cardiologist from the ship’s team, who thrilled us by predicting that, with surgery, Anahis would be able to have a long and normal life!
Dr. Cunningham had also heard of a foundation that might be able to help. He instantly reached out to the World Pediatric Project, and (can you believe it?) that same day they called to request more information. They would speak to Cedimat, the elite heart hospital in the capital city where Anahis already ranked hopelessly low on a dauntingly long waiting list. The very next day Anahis was called in for pre-surgery evaluation!
One hurdle remained: To qualify for surgery, she still needed four O positive blood donors. Securing blood donations in the Dominican Republic is not easy, especially for delicate procedures where fresh blood is required. There was a wave of respiratory illness going around, so after much searching and a Facebook plea, we were disappointed to have found only four healthy individuals willing to give blood. Of these, only one knew their blood type. So as we started the ninety-minute drive into the capital, it seemed that the chances of my four donors being the right blood type and being cleared to donate were near zero-and with no margin for error; the scheduled surgery was now only two days away.
With testing complete, I opened the envelopes; the first one was O+ and we smiled – one confirmed donor! I opened the second envelope; it too read O+ and we celebrated! Statistically, about 33% of people are O+, so we were beating the odds. Envelope #3: O+! I literally burst into song, “Mi Dios es Bueno, Alabale.” (My God is good, worship Him.). Four random donors, four usable pints. And just like that, we had the blood we needed! Thank you, Lord!
On Wednesday December 14th, six months after we clapped at Sonia’s door, Anahis received her life-saving surgery. Her family, her doctors and her neighbors all agree that without the help of the Foundation for Peace team-and of course, God’s guiding hand-none of this could have happened. Mom, particularly, confided that the bureaucracy alone would have overwhelmed her without our support.
Anahis’ personality has blossomed as the treatments take effect. A little princess (she only wants to wear dresses, and the fluffier the better), will have a renewed chance at a healthy and happy life. Against impossible odds, the FFP staff and many FFP teams worked tirelessly on her behalf and God opened door after door (that perhaps we were banging on). It took financial support, hundreds of hours of FFP time, a multitude of prayers and tons of tenacious effort, but this precious child is worth all that and more!
Please help us to say yes for others. Donate today so that when we find the next Anahis, we can say yes to help with their needs. When you give to Foundation for Peace, you are helping an organization made up of individuals who have dedicated their lives, time, energy and talents to the service of others. You can be confident that your sacrificial gifts will make a positive difference in someone’s life.