Three years ago at 4:53 p.m., Jenny’s world turned completely black when the house she was in collapsed, burying her and killing her caregiver. Just two months old, she spent days under the rubble with no food or water, before being discovered by people in the neighborhood searching for survivors.
An American reporter, hearing the commotion, would later rush her to a medical tent at the United Nations base near the airport. Jenny had a skull fracture, broken ribs, a barely perceptible pulse, a blood sugar level that was one-third what was necessary to live, and two crushed arms. The scars are a permanent reminder of the concrete blocks that smashed both arms.
By the time she was airlifted to Holtz Children’s Hospital at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center, her parents had no idea where she was. It would be months before DNA confirmation, a court hearing and pro-bono lawyers made their reunification in Miami possible.
“God had a hand on her. She lived, and for that they are grateful,” said Jean Caceres-Gonzalez, the founder and head of His House Children’s Home Shelter, which initially had custody of Jenny and provided her with therapy. “Jenny’s doing great. She’s just a doll. She’s speaking English.”
But Jenny’s blissful, bilingual world is a stark contrast to her parents’ struggling reality. There are bills, language hurdles and — most recently — car insurance claims, police accident reports, and the challenge of figuring out how to survive on Alexis’ $8.50-an-hour salary with another baby on the way.
“The money he makes in a month isn’t even sufficient to pay the rent,” Devilme, who is four months pregnant, said in a quiet voice from across the room of their $725-a-month, one-bedroom apartment.
Life recently got tougher.
Devilme said the Hallandale Beach hotel where she worked for the past year let her go because her pregnancy made it difficult for her to do the daily bending that’s required to make up the hotel beds.
Then, two days after her firing, a Jeep slammed into the couple’s 12-year-old Honda Civic while Devilme was driving Alexis to his dish-washing job at an Italian restaurant on Hollywood Beach.
With no car, Alexis now spends more than six hours daily commuting on public transportation. It’s often 3 a.m. when he arrives home from a shift that ends at 11 p.m.
“It’s tough,” he said. “But what are you to do?’’
As with many other displaced quake victims, life has been more about survival than recovery.
“We lived in Haiti, and we know how the misery is,” said Alexis, a thin man who writes music in his spare time. “Once you’re outside of the country, and you’ve left family behind, you can never think just about yourself. You are working not only on behalf of yourself, but also on behalf of the family you have here with you and the ones you’ve left behind.”
Caceres-Gonzalez, who still calls to check on the family even though Jenny is no longer in need of therapy, said: “There’s still a lot of struggle, but they are persevering through all of the challenges of making a new life here.”
His House is still caring for two Haitian children who came after the quake to be with adoptive parents who changed their minds.
These days, all of the free assistance, including state-funded daycare for Jenny and rent money from the International Rescue Committee, is gone.
The couple are among thousands of Haitians who have been granted Temporary Protected Status by the Obama administration. The legal relief allows Haitians to live and work in the United Sates without fear of deportation.
Haiti, however, is never far from their minds. Recent visits home have provided little comfort, they say.
For Devilme, the pain of being out of Haiti is sharpened by what she left behind — another child. Fearful that Jenny wouldn’t be returned to her if it were known she had another child, she initially told reporters that the baby was an only child.
Her 7-year old son, Christopher, lives with one of her brothers in Port-au-Prince; as a mother, it pains her to be separated from him.
Last summer, she visited Haiti for two weeks.
“He was so small,” she said, recalling how she slept in the ruins of a quake-damaged house with her son. “That was so painful, seeing him that way.”
Markenzy Lapointe, one of two attorneys who provided the family with pro-bono legal services, said he understood even three years ago when fighting for Jenny to be reunited with her parents that “it was going to be very hard for them.”
“I believe they will overcome their challenges,” he said. “The single most important thing is this little girl’s life was saved.’’