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January 16th, 2010
12:23 PM ET

Children in Haiti

By Elizabeth Cohen
CNN Senior Medical Correspondent

For two days, he walked around with a little piece of paper taped to his shirt that read “Sean,” but his name isn’t really “Sean.” No one’s sure of his name, or how old he is, but Sean appears to be around eight. He’s one of several orphans who somehow ended up at this makeshift hospital near the airport I’ve been reporting from for two days.

The doctors here have really tried to take these orphans under their wings, getting them pain medications and dressing their wounds – Sean has a bandaged wrist and a bandaged head - but it’s impossible to be with them all the time, as they’re tending to more than 200 patients. This means Sean’s left on his own for periods of time, and he has trouble eating by himself. Since he has fractures in both wrists he has trouble holding a bottle of water or opening up a granola bar, one of the few things to eat here.

Sometimes when nobody else is nearby to help, my team and I feed Sean, holding up his water bottle to his mouth, or opening the granola bar wrapper. We’re not aid workers, but we’re here, right next to him. Thursday night Sean planted himself between me and CNN Medical Producer John Bonifield as we wrote our story. I think he liked our computer, or perhaps our company. Now it’s 2:30 Saturday morning, and I’m looking at Sean right now, sleeping on the floor. Wait a minute – now he’s stirring, crying out something in his sleep. Now he’s sitting up, now he’s wandering around crying. A nurse came to talk to him, asking him in Creole if he was in pain, but he didn’t seem to give much of an answer, and she had to go off to another patient. He kept crying and wandering around, and a second nurse is now giving him pain medication. He’s still wandering around crying; it seems there’s not much anybody can do.

Eline, an eight year old girl with fractured legs, was also alone here at this hospital for several days, but unlike Sean she can’t move around, so she was drenched in her own urine for days. The hospital hasn’t had the manpower to do things like clean up orphans, but Friday morning a volunteer from the University of Miami came to change her clothes. The only problem was the volunteer didn’t have any clothes to change her into, so she came over to me and John and asked if there were any extra hospital scrubs. Of course there weren’t – there’s not much extra of anything around here – so I gave her a t-shirt I’d brought with me. Then the volunteer realized she didn’t have anything to clean her with, so John gave her a pack of his baby wipes.
Several hours later, a man came in with a photo of a little girl, asking if anyone had seen her. He’d been to the morgue, he’d been to other hospitals, he’d been everywhere, but he couldn’t find his daughter. Miraculously, he turned out to be Eline’s father. She’s not an orphan after all. Eline’s mom and dad are now with her, by her side as she recovers.

A few hours ago, a new orphan came in to take her place. I’m watching her sleep right now, the thin blue blanket that lays on top of her rises and falls as she breathes.

What will happen to these parentless children after they leave here? I asked Dr. Barth Green, who’s heading up this operation by the University of Miami. “They’ll probably be taken in by another family and made a slave. That’s what happens,” he says. He vows to make sure that won’t happen to the orphans under his care.

By the way, while I was typing away on my laptop a few hours ago, I heard a voice ask me for my used bottle of water today. I looked up – way up – and saw former NBA player Alonzo Mourning looking at me. Mourning is a friend of Green’s, and he flew down here to do what he could to help out. He helped administer IV’s, he’s been playing with Sean, and collected bottles to be cut up to use for splints. I know he’s a basketball player but to me he’s a rock star.

It’s now late morning on Saturday. I found a doctor who could translate what Sean’s been telling us into English. Why is he wandering around? He says he’s been looking for his mother and father.

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soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Amiee

    EMERGENCY FIRST AID – Honey is a traditional topical treatment for infected wounds. It can be effective on antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Use honey in infected wounds and its prophylactic use on the wounds of patients susceptible to MRSA and other antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The antibacterial properties of honey include the release of low levels of hydrogen peroxide.

    January 16, 2010 at 13:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Domingo Stern

    Yesterday I went to the American Red Cross Blood Services to donate blood for Haiti.
    I went through the motions and I was very surprised and saddened that they turned me down because thirty years ago ( from 1973 to 1980) I lived in Belgium. The system blocks the donation process and they gave me an "Indefinite Deferral Letter" stating "CJD Travel".
    It is unfortunate this bureocracy that "supects" I might have eaten Belgian mad cow and I am therefore prevented to help save lives....

    I researched the matter through the internet and the only safe way to find out is, after my death, through autopsy of my brain.
    I shared this experience with my 12 year old grandson and he sent me a cute message saying "Oh well. it was nice of you to think of donating blood. I rather stay alive though and wait until after I die to see if I carried mad cow disease."

    January 16, 2010 at 15:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Amy

    The world CANNOT stand by and allow these orphans to be turned into restaveks. This is a double tragedy, no triple, for their lives. To loose their families, to survive and be rescued and then to be abandoned again. PLEASE do not let this happen. At some point, we cannot keep our borders closed and keep our children within our cultures. These children do not care if they are Haitian, Greek or Martians. What they do care about is safety, love, food, care and a roof over their head. PLEASE do not let this happen to them.

    January 17, 2010 at 02:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Hadiya

    Thank you for being there and providing so much care and love. I am sending energy to you and everyone there. When I drink water, take a bath, eat a meal I am sending all of its benefits to you. I have been going for walks through the woods and with every step I send compassion and love. I ask the tress, the stream and the birds for their help. I hope that knowing that so many of us are thinking of you all and praying for you will bring some aid to you and all that you are touching. You are all remembered. We are grateful to the doctors and volunteers of all countries. To the Haitians we send unending love and positive energy. Please let them know they are not alone. Even those of us that can't be there physically are with them in spirit.

    January 17, 2010 at 11:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Susan Venters

    There are so many needing help. And no one there to just comfort them. What can we do to help?

    January 17, 2010 at 11:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Jaime Gutierrez

    Thank you Elizabeth for bringing this story up in CNN. Sean is in my mind since I left Haiti last night. I do wish an american family may adopt him and give him the oportunity to develop freely. He is such a character, and fun to be around!

    Thanks again for all your effort to communicate the rest of the world about what is happening in Haiti.

    January 17, 2010 at 14:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Michelle Durand

    please help pleople in carrefour they in need of your help water,medicale care and food please please,thank you.

    January 17, 2010 at 18:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Demetria Rupkey

    I wonder if there is any way that some of those orphans can be adopted? Or maybe they are looking for temporary homes for them? I know my family would love to help and offer a home to at least one boy and one girl. ( this is what we have the room for). ........???

    January 17, 2010 at 18:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Suzanne

    I have never been to Haiti, nor do I know anyone who lives there, but as a human beings how can we just stand by and see so much suffering and heartache. These people... these children are living through anyone's worst nightmare! Please, let us not forget about them and abandon them, after surviving this tragedy, to such a horrible fate!

    From the bottom of my heart, on behalf of all those whose lives on which you are having such a great impact at this very moment... on behalf of Sean... thank you, Ms. Cohen...

    January 17, 2010 at 20:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. carrie goldig

    As a pediatric nurse practitioner with 20 years experience, would you know who I can contact to come there and volunteer?

    January 18, 2010 at 02:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Joyce Cordy

    It is heartbreaking to see the children wandering around with no one to care for them or sitting in hospitals with no mother to comfort them. There are thousands of good people in Canada who have been unable to have the children they long for. Hopefully at some point adoption of these children to a family that can care for them will be made easier. It would not only be a prayer answered for the families here but a burden eased on a country that is so desperately poor.

    January 18, 2010 at 06:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. charlotte

    I’ve read all your posts and there are simply no words. I will pray for you to have strength and that heaven will send you what you need to get through what lies ahead.

    January 18, 2010 at 20:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. chris

    i am wondering where are the people with disabilities i have cerebral paalsy and i am just wondering how they are if they have survive.i am prayering for them.

    January 18, 2010 at 22:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Trudy Nickens

    Emergency Foster Care with families who are already certified These children should be put in Foster Care in the US. until family or adoption can be provided for them. I am a foster parent and I would gladly step up and take displaced children.Please get them out!

    January 20, 2010 at 01:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Geralda Borgard

    for people who want to volunteer to go there can contact doctors without borders website for more information, also the red cross, and unicef, all are reputable agencies that have been on the ground of Haiti for many years. God bless the heart of the people who are helping, and those who are getting ready to go there. those children need help desperately.

    January 20, 2010 at 12:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Shay

    im so worried for those children i dont want anything bad happening to them. If i could i would take all these children and take care of them. I would give them education, food, and water. I wouldnt make them slaves. That'a horrible. Sometimes when i see pictures of family with haitian orphans i always have a feeling that child will be their slaves. They're suppose to be their children not a slave. If they want some to clean their house they can hire a maid because with all the money they use it can be used to hire a maid. These people should be ashame of themselves.

    January 27, 2010 at 21:45 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.