Bond Grows Between Surgeon, Young Quake Survivor

fromWLRN

Six months after the Haitian earthquake, several hospitals in the United States are still treating survivors. An extraordinary bond has grown between a pediatric plastic surgeon in Miami and his 9-year-old patient.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Immediately after the earthquake, doctors from around the world flew to Haiti to help save lives.

Niala Boodhoo of member station WLRN reports now on the bond between an American doctor and a Haitian patient, where the healing goes both ways.

NIALA BOODHOO: When Exiese Peterson(ph) was pulled from the rubble of this Port-au-Prince house, four days after the earthquake, his mom thought they were retrieving his body for burial. But the nine-year-old boy was alive.

EXIESE PETERSON: (Through Translator) I spent four days under the concrete blocks. The concrete blocks fell on my head.

BOODHOO: He was rushed to a makeshift hospital in Port-au-Prince where Chad Perlyn was the first doctor on hand.

CHAD PERLYN: When the Marines brought him to me, his face was wrapped up with a bandage and they thought that he had a broken jaw, 'cause he had a swollen face. When I took the bandage off and hundreds of maggots spilled out from his face.

BOODHOO: In the chaos after the earthquake, the pediatric plastic surgeon from Miami Children's Hospital helped set up a makeshift treatment tent in Port-au- Prince. But the onslaught of crushed kids made Chad question whether his medicine was even making a difference, until he took of Peterson's bandages.

PERLYN: I thought, we are making a difference. This is why we're here. No nine-year-old boy should have to go through this and be in this condition.

BOODHOO: Chad realized the temporary facility didn't have the proper resources to treat Peterson, so he put him on a list of kids who needed to go to the United States. Peterson and his mom made it out on the next flight.

PERLYN: And that's where I thought this story of Peterson and I ended, that I'd helped get his wounds clean and get him well, and then put him on a plane.

BOODHOO: A few days later, Chad came back to Miami and to Childrens Hospital.

CATHY: Good morning, Chouise(ph). It's Cathy. How can I help you?

PERLYN: So this is Chouise.

BOODHOO: But the biggest surprise was when Chad found out Peterson was here at his hospital. Since January, Chad has performed 12 surgeries to rebuild the left side of Peterson's face, including crafting a new left ear. Those operations took about two months until Peterson was well enough to be discharged.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATIONS)

BOODHOO: Now the Haitians are living at a nearby hotel and doctors come to see the kids there. On this visit, Chad's brought Peterson a gift, a Creole-English dictionary.

PERLYN: In English, book.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PERLYN: Okay? So this book is for you.

PETERSON: Thank you.

PERLYN: To help with your English.

BOODHOO: Many Sundays, Chad and his wife invite the Haitian families to their house to swim. They've taken the kids on trips to local amusement parks. In April, Chad returned to Haiti. He brought in tents and other supplies to Peterson's family that stayed behind. Every night, Peterson calls Chad to talk.

PERLYN: How are you? Ça passé? How are you feeling?

PETERSON: Fine.

PERLYN: Did you go swimming?

PETERSON: Yes.

PERLYN: You went swimming today?

So that's the gist of our conversation every night.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PERLYN: He calls me, some days several times a day, and he just needs to know that I'm still around.

BOODHOO: Chad's wife, Brooke, says she likes having Peterson around, too.

BROOKE PERLYN: I think that really helped him cope with it. And knowing that, you know, he was still helping Haiti.

BOODHOO: But even though many of the injured Haitians came to Miami for medical treatment, it's meant to be a temporary stop.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which resettles Haitians, is supposed to do so outside of Florida. Chad and his colleagues at Miami Childrens made the case that uprooting Peterson and several other kids now would slow their medical recovery.

A few weeks ago, the religious group agreed and said four families could stay. Peterson and his mom were among them.

PERLYN: There's just something incredibly special about that little boy. And he represents to me, because of all of his circumstances and our emotional state as team when he came in, to see this little boy and he just represents Haiti. He represents his whole country, the whole future of the country.

BOODHOO: For now, Peterson's future is in Miami. This summer, he's learning English and in the fall he starts school.

For NPR News, I'm Niala Boodhoo in Miami.

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