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Open hearts give Haitian patient a 2nd chance

Marie Toussaint with her host Naperville resident LindMerz after her surgery.| Submitted photo

Marie Toussaint with her host, Naperville resident Linda Merz, after her surgery.| Submitted photo

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About Haitian Hearts

All medical treatments and the hospital stay were provided to Toussaint without charge thanks to Edward Hospital administrators and staff, Midwest Cardiologist, and St. Jude Medical Center, which donated two of the valves.

To learn more about Haitian Hearts go to haitianhearts.org.

A chance meeting of a heart doctor and a Naperville man on a missions trip. Two women willing to open their homes to care for a stranger. Edward Hospital surgeons, nurses, and other healthcare professionals volunteering to donate skills. One gravely ill, yet incredibly strong woman given a second chance at life.

Some would say any one of those occurrences is amazing. But those involved in caring for a Haitian woman in need of heart surgery look at all the people who came together to save her life and they call it a miracle.

Marie Toussaint, 37, arrived from Haiti in early April to undergo heart surgery at Edward Hospital in dire condition. Three valves in her heart, two of which had been previously repaired, were failing.

“She was basically ‘drowning’ in congestive heart failure,” explains Dr. Bryan Foy, Director of Cardiovascular Surgery at Edward Hospital who performed surgery on Toussaint. “She was dying … she might have had a few weeks of life left. But not more than that.”

Naperville resident Pat O’Donnell learned of Toussaint’s case when her husband visited Haiti for a missions trip. There he shared a room with Dr. John Carroll, a doctor from Peoria who runs the non-profit organization, Haitian Hearts. Haitian Hearts transports sick children and young adults to the U.S. to receive life-saving heart surgery. Carroll shared with O’Donnell about Toussaint, a former patient of his. Toussaint’s surgery at Edward had been planned, but Carroll was stuck on logistics concerning her care outside of the hospital stay.

O’Donnell texted his wife about Toussaint and she immediately began arranging housing in Naperville for the sick woman. Through her church, St. Raphael, Pat connected with Naperville resident, Linda Merz. The two women bonded almost immediately and dug in deep to provide everything Toussaint would need — rides to appointments, housing and food, and even a visit from her sister, Rose, who lives in New Jersey, whom she hadn’t seen in 11 years.

“All of us had done this sight unseen, not knowing anybody,” Merz explains. “A day at a time we’re coordinating this.”

The first days of Toussaint’s treatment were scary ones. Foy had to perform essentially three operations in one, replacing two older previously-repaired valves and newly repairing another. Toussaint remained on continuous support for four days following the surgery. Everyone waited to see how she would fare.

“It is highly unusual for somebody who had what she had to go through triple-valve surgery,” Foy says. “The chance of surviving all that is one percent.”

Toussaint survived, fighting additional complications with her kidney, gall bladder and lungs. After 21 days in the hospital she was finally released to Merz’s home.

“Seeing Marie come back has been joyful thing,” says Merz.

Pat agrees. “She’s extremely motivated to get better … She’s a very strong and determined person.”

And those surrounding her, the doctors, hospital administrators and others, are just as determined to help her. As Foy says, “It’s amazing to see. When it’s so dire and it looks so hopeless, to see all these people working unbelievably hard to save her and never giving up.”

Merz also emphasizes, “as long as she needs help to get well, I’m willing to have her here.”

Toussaint is recovering steadily, walking on her own and keeping up with follow-up appointments thanks to her great care team. Foy expects that she’ll need to remain stateside for another month or so. Then when she’s sufficiently healed, she’ll return to Haiti and the 13-year-old daughter she had to leave behind.

Foy expresses best the miracle that took place for Toussaint: “We got a chance to save a life and we took it.”



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