MARCO ISLAND — Thanks to Marco Island’s Sunrise Rotary Club, Angel “Michela” Duchene will be 16 years old on April 19, 2022. She is currently five years old. Her chances of being a teenager were slim to none when she arrived in the U.S. on Presidents’ Day.
Her fate changed the day Sunrise Rotary decided to sponsor her as its 11th Gift of Life child. Her selection meant she would receive life-saving, open-heart surgery, and after recovery, lead the life of a normal child.
“Her journey to the island required many adults willing to give their time and services,” said Wanda Day at Sunrise Rotary’s meeting on Tuesday, “particularly the members of this club and Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital.”
In Haiti, Michela would have no access to comprehensive medical care much less a critical surgical procedure. It was that lack of access that gave rise to Rotary’s Gift of Life program.
“These children deserve as much of as chance as anyone,” said Rotarian Bob Thomas. During the club’s Tuesday meeting, Michela went through the group saying her Creole “Merci,” and giving high fives, low fives and baby fives.
A shy child with a brilliant smile, Michela came to the U.S. with Peggy Parker, a guardian/ translator who helped the child through surgery and recovery. Her diagnosis was Tetrology of Fallot, a congenital birth defect that is rare in the U.S. but prevalent in Third World countries where nutrition is poor for pregnant women.
Prior to surgery, Michela’s condition made her heart race and she became short of breath when she walked. Eating often consumed too much energy, so she was listless and languid. Her father in Haiti carried her from place to place leaving her with caretakers when he had to be out of the home. She was unable to attend school in her condition.
Michela underwent her open-heart operation at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital on Feb. 24 after cardiologists determined there was no other way to correct her heart defects. Her surgery took about four hours from prep to Intensive Care Unit where she stayed for five days.
“The doctors and nurses at the hospital were terrific,” Parker said. “Some of the nurses spoke Creole to soothe her pain, and the hospital’s cooks who were Haitian prepared her native foods when she was able to eat.”
Parker and Michela came to Marco Island after her surgery to wait out the recovery period and periodically see her doctors for follow-up. They were hosted by Sunrise Rotarian families who saw to their needs. Michela’s heart slowly adjusted to its new strength and the accelerated beating returned to normal. Her labored breathing decreased and finally disappeared altogether.
“What the Sunrise Rotary has done for this child is a miracle,” Parker said on Monday. “Today, she is running on the beach, playing with other children, splashing though the water and talking non-stop.”
Sunrise Rotary’s program works through the cooperation of the club, Gift of Life of Florida, Inc. and Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital. The club donates to Gift of Life and selects a child for consideration. Children are chosen from countries where medical access is not available. Gift of Life presents the child’s case to the hospital; and when approved, the hospital, doctors and nurses donate their services.
After its donation to Gift of Life, Sunrise Rotary pays for travel and expenses for child and guardian and is responsible for transportation to and from Hollywood for surgery and doctors’ visits. Host families donate their homes and family time for care and entertainment.
Michela will have her final doctors’ visit, and if all goes well, fly home to her father on Saturday.
“She will return home to attend school, play with the neighbor’s children, and hopefully, made a positive difference in Haiti some day,” said Day.