THWUMP!!!! This simple sound put an exclamation point on two years of tears, travel and hospital stays. It was then that Bethlie’s mother - her eyes shining - turned to my wife and then to me and said, “Thank you.” The “THWUMP” of that stamp this week meant that Roselie, Bethlie’s mother, became a lawful permanent resident of the United States. Bethlie’s status will be changed to the same within a month. The stamp and the green cards to come means they won’t have to go back to Haiti, to the tents where their relatives are living, to a country struggling with cholera and to rebuild.
Bethlie will have lived with my family for two years in March. She was flown out of Haiti to San Antonio for treatment at Christus Santa Rosa. I’m convinced it saved her life. She was at her school when the quake hit and trapped her under rubble. With an open fracture of her leg, she could only cry for help, as her mother, two uncles and others dug by hand. She was trapped for seven hours. The fracture was so bad, the bone in her leg became infected. If she stayed in Haiti, she would have lost her leg, and maybe her life. U.S. volunteer medical staff helping in a Haiti hospital post-earthquake recognized that Bethlie and another girl, 11-year-old Naika Etienne, were in bad shape. With the help of the non-profit Healing the Children, both girls were evacuated without their parents out of Haiti.
After a two-month hospital stay at Christus, Naika and Bethlie were released with bulky metal fixators on their legs. Bethlie came to live with me, my wife and our three daughters. Naika went to live with Fred and Lori Tips and their three children. Both girls, under the skilled hand of orthopedic Dr. Travis Murray, underwent dozens of surgeries, including procedures to lengthen out their injured legs, since so much bone had been removed initially.
It's hard to believe that Bethlie's leg is fully healed. She even ran a 5K last month with our school's Girls on the Run/Girls on Track team. She's also been diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease, since arriving in San Antonio - a main reason her mother was granted humanitarian parole into the United States about seven months ago. Since Roselie's arrival here - she also lives with us - she has been going to Bethlie's medical appointments and educating herself on caring for a child with such a chronic and complex disease.
The immigration process has been a journey of its own -- a trail of forms, records and phone calls. The flowers and American flags that have arrived at our house as a congratulations, and testaments to determination. Bethlie, such the adolescent, prefers the flags as fashionable headwear. Bethlie’s uncle in Haiti emailed that after the immigration success he has a “taste of victory in his mouth, on a bittersweet day." The U.S. celebration for Roselie and Bethlie came just one day before the two-year anniversary of the earthquake.
The determination Bethlie has shown to come to another country, go through painful surgeries, learn English and attend school is a great example for me and my girls. Her mother’s decision to entrust her little girl to strangers in the United States is a testament to a mother’s love.
So many people have come together to help this family. There is no way to name them all here. Most recently during the immigration case, we have been so grateful for U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez's help, as well as the help of the law office of Joe Demott, which took on Roselie and Bethlie's cases pro bono.
This coming together is yet another example of why I love San Antonio. The journey is not done. Bethlie and Roselie will move to Florida later this year to be with Fritz, Bethlie’s father and Roselie’s husband. An American citizen of Haitian descent, it is because Fritz petitioned the U.S. government that Bethlie and Roselie can stay in the country. Mother and daughter's trip to Florida to live with Fritz soon will bring about different emotions, but now I am just very thankful: to be in this community, for great people who have stepped up to help, and for a 12 year old and her mother who will always be part of our family -- and now they’re part of this country.