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'Baby Jenny' reunited with doctor who saved her in Haiti

By Elizabeth Cohen, CNN Senior Medical Correspondent
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Haiti baby: One year later
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Doctor treated Nadine Devilme's daughter's fractured skull and crushed chest
  • "We didn't think she would live two hours," Dr. Karen Schneider says
  • Jenny is a normal toddler, with a big smile
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(CNN) -- In her thoughts and prayers over the past year, Nadine Devilme has thanked God countless times for saving her baby after Haiti's earthquake. She's also wanted to thank the doctor who treated Jenny Alexis after the 2-month-old spent four days alone, crushed in the rubble with nothing to drink.

There was one problem: Devilme never knew the doctor's name, never knew exactly whom to thank for treating her daughter's fractured skull and crushed chest and then arranging for her to be airlifted to a hospital in Miami.

Meanwhile, the physician who saved Jenny, Dr. Karen Schneider, an assistant professor of pediatric emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins, has spent the past year wondering how the baby was doing.

"I want to know, is she walking, starting to talk, is she playing, because when she first came to me, I didn't think she'd be able to do any of those things," Schneider said. "I didn't think she would live."

Finally, on Monday, the baby many call a miracle and the doctor who brought her from the brink of death were brought together.

"One of the few success stories of that horrible time!!"

Haitian couple await baby's return

Last week, Schneider sent me an e-mail asking if I had contact information for Jenny's parents.

"I would love to connect with her parents and see how she is doing!!" she wrote. "It is one of the few success stories of that horrible time!!"

Schneider, also a member of the Catholic order the Sisters of Mercy, had a layover Monday in Miami on her way to Haiti to work with cholera victims. We decided to meet up with Jenny and her family. Jenny's parents have lived in Miami since April after obtaining visas to enter the United States.

When we arrived at the family's apartment, Devilme brought us into Jenny's room, where she was taking her afternoon nap.

"Oh my gosh, she's so big! So big!" Schneider exclaimed when she saw Jenny. "Marche? Marche?" she asked, using the Creole word for "walk." "Is she walking?"

"Yes, yes!" Devilme told her.

"Her smile, it goes up on both sides? Or does it droop on one side?" Schneider asked, concerned that trauma to Jenny's head during the earthquake might have damaged the baby's facial nerves.

DNA testing confirms they're the parents

Devilme, who's learned some English in her nine months in Miami, assured the doctor that Jenny had a normal smile.

Once Jenny awoke, she proved she's a normal toddler, grabbing toys, saying "Mama," taking a visitor's keys off a table and walking outside even after she'd been told not to.

"She looks like nothing ever happened," Schneider said. "And we didn't think she would live two hours."

Devilme called over an interpreter to translate from Creole to English.

"I would like to say thank you for saving my daughter, because I always wanted to meet you and I never had the opportunity," Devilme told Schneider. "For me, it's just a great thing to be able to say thank you to you."

"You're welcome," Schneider said as she hugged Devilme. "It's such a gift to be able to see this baby."

When they met Monday, Schneider agreed to be Jenny's godmother.

A risky procedure

When the earthquake struck, Devilme was in one part of her home in Port-au-Prince, and Jenny was in another part with her baby sitter. Devilme was injured and taken to a local hospital, and her husband, Junior Alexis, who was unharmed in the quake, returned to their ruined home to search for Jenny in the rubble.

He couldn't find her, but four days later, someone else found Jenny amid the concrete and flagged down a journalist who was driving nearby, who took the baby to a makeshift hospital run by the University of Miami and Project MediaShare.

Schneider, the head of pediatrics at the hospital, had been up for 30 hours straight and had finally lain down for a nap when a nurse woke her up to take care of Jenny.

"She wasn't conscious, and she had head trauma -- she had an indentation in her skull," Schneider told Devilme on Monday. "And another thing that terrified me was her chest was completely caved in and everything was pushed to one side."

But Schneider's biggest concern was after four days without any liquids, Jenny was so dehydrated she couldn't even get an IV into her veins. With no other choice, she delivered fluids directly into Jenny's leg bones, a risky procedure.

Once Jenny was stabilized, Project Medishare paid for a private jet to fly her to Miami.

"Miracle" comes full circle with reunion

"This was a big, fancy executive jet," she told her. "And I laid Jenny down, and she peed all over the leather, and then she opened her eyes for the first time and smiled at me."

Seeing that the baby was hydrated enough to urinate, Schneider felt for the first time Jenny might survive the two-hour flight to Miami.

"I was so thrilled, but the pilot wasn't so happy she'd peed on his leather seat," she told Devilme, laughing.

An uncertain future

Devilme said she hopes to find a job and send Jenny to day care, but she's had trouble finding both. Her husband already works at a local restaurant.

The family has permission to stay in the United States for two years. The International Rescue Committee is supporting them while they're in the United States, including helping them apply for health care benefits for her physical therapy. Her arms, which had surgery, continue to heal.

"I lost everything in Haiti," Devilme said. "I have nothing to go back to, so I don't know what's going to happen."

Schneider thinks Jenny has a bright future.

"She's a miracle baby," she told her mother. "For almost four days, she had almost no fluid, and yet she survived. I've always said God has a special plan for her."

CNN's John Bonifield contributed to this report

 
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