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'Miracle' comes full circle with reunion of Haitian baby and parents

By Elizabeth Cohen, CNN Senior Medical Correspondent
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Haitian family reunited
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Haitian couple's efforts to reunite with their injured daughter in the U.S. has been an ordeal
  • Nadine Devilme and Junior Alexis' daughter, Jenny, fell through floor during Haiti quake
  • Assuming she was orphaned, officials whisked the badly injured girl to Miami
  • Devilme and Alexis had an emotional reunion with their daughter on Monday

An odyssey of grief, legal entanglements, DNA tests and strength to persevere culminates in a family's reunion. Tuesday on "Anderson Cooper 360," CNN, 10 p.m. ET

Miami, Florida (CNN) -- Four days after Haiti's earthquake, a 2-month-old baby girl was brought to a field hospital barely alive, her skull fractured, her ribs broken, her pulse dangerously low.

Doctors at the makeshift hospital in Port-au-Prince knew the baby had only hours to live if they didn't get her to a pediatric intensive care unit. Assuming she was an orphan -- she'd been found in the rubble of an apartment building in the arms of a dead woman -- they whisked her to a plane headed to Miami, Florida.

They had no idea that back in Port-au-Prince, a couple named Nadine Devilme and Junior Alexis were frantically searching for their baby girl. The couple's efforts to reunite with their daughter in the United States has been an odyssey of grief, legal entanglements, DNA tests and strength to persevere when it seemed all hope had been lost.

Searching for their lost baby

When the earthquake hit Haiti on January 12, Devilme was at home with her daughter and her babysitter. She watched in horror as the floor fell apart beneath them and Jenny fell headfirst through a hole, followed by the baby sitter.

Devilme herself was knocked unconscious. The next thing she knew, she awoke at a local hospital. Her husband, who was not at home when the quake struck, rushed to be by her side. She told him to go back to their home and search through the rubble to look for Jenny.

For four days -- Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday -- Alexis came back with the same news for his wife: he couldn't find Jenny.

Then on Saturday, a neighbor arrived with news: someone had found Jenny and taken her to a hospital.

Which hospital? The neighbor didn't know.

The couple searched hospitals nearby but found no sign of their daughter. Finally, they learned that she had been taken across town to a field hospital set up near the airport by the University of Miami, and then flown to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

Video: DNA confirms Haitians parents

Thrilled to learn their daughter was alive, the couple then learned they couldn't see her. With no passport and no visa, they had no way to get to the United States. They couldn't even prove the baby was their daughter.

By that time, many were calling her "Baby Patricia," the name given to her after the ambulance driver who got her to the plane to Miami on time. Now Devilme and Alexis set out to prove that this little girl was theirs -- that she wasn't Baby Patricia, but Baby Jenny.

Proving they were the parents

Through the International Red Cross, Devilme and Alexis requested a DNA test to prove they were the parents. Little happened for weeks, partly because of a legal dispute over whether the baby should be a ward of the state of Florida or a ward of the federal government, according to Mark Riordan, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Children and Families.

"I can't sleep at night," Devilme said March 6 in Creole through a translator. "This is all that I have. She's my only child."

To show that Jenny was her child, Devilme showed a visiting journalist Jenny's vaccination record from the local hospital and a small blue Bible inscribed with the baby's name and date of birth.

While he awaited the DNA test, Alexis carried around a black-and-white copy of a photograph, sent to him through the Red Cross, of the baby in her crib at the hospital in Miami.

"I look at the picture and I cry," he said in March. "That's all I have, is this picture."

Then Mark Lapointe, a Haitian-American lawyer in Miami, took interest in the case and became the attorney for the baby, who was referred to as "Unknown Haitian Baby" in court hearings and "Jane Doe" at her foster home in Miami. He asked Miami attorney Roberto Martinez to represent Devilme and Alexis.

Together, the lawyers pushed for a DNA test, and on March 16, Nadine Devilme and Junior Alexis were informed of the results: She wasn't an unknown baby or Jane Doe or Patricia -- she was their baby, Jenny Alexis.

"This is a case where these were really good parents, and I can't wait for these parents to be reunited with their baby," Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman said at a hearing March 17. "This is one happy day."

A tearful reunion

It took another two weeks of legal maneuvering to get Devilme and Alexis passports and visas, and on Monday, after 84 anxious days, they were reunited with their daughter.

First, they were taken from the tent city where they've been staying to the Port-au-Prince airport. For the first time, the couple met the lawyers who'd been helping them, as well as Dr. Arthur Fournier, the University of Miami doctor who arranged to have their daughter flown to the United States.

"This is what they call in Creole a mirak -- a miracle," Fournier said at the airport.

The couple then flew to Miami and were driven to His House, the foster care provider where Jenny has lived since being released from the hospital.

When Devilme and Alexis walked through the door of the cottage where Jenny lives, they immediately sunk to their knees, embracing their baby and crying.

This is what they call in Creole a mirak -- a miracle.
--Dr. Arthur Fournier, who arranged to have Jenny flown to the United States
RELATED TOPICS
  • Haiti Earthquake
  • Pediatrics
  • Miami

Jenny smiled and looked around, made eye contact with her parents and the foster care worker who cared for her in her parents' absence.

"It was impossible to have a dry eye," said Martinez, who was present at the reunion.

The parents have a one-year "humanitarian parole" -- a type of visa -- from the federal government and can apply to have it renewed, according to Donald Cannava, a lawyer for the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Jenny is still receiving care for a fractured skull and receives physical therapy for her injured arm, which she still can't use properly. But in general, she's in good health, a far cry from the emaciated, frail child brought to Miami nearly three months ago.

"She's a fat little baby," Martinez said. "She's a happy, bouncy little kid."

 
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