Lourdina (top, center) going back to school (October 2013, pictured with other girls from Saint Rock Orphanage)
jack cadigan ’15
Jack & Lourdina A Thayer student’s tale of kinship and hope WRITTEN BY AIDAN ROONEY THAYER UPPER SCHOOL TEACHER
“Linked” is how Saint Kevin finds himself. He had been praying alone in his cell, a cell so narrow one hand is out the window. A blackbird lands in it, nests and lays, and – “finding himself linked / into the network of eternal life” – Kevin chooses to maintain his stance “until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.” It is a simple story that requires little explication. In Seamus Heaney’s poem about the subject (Saint Kevin and the Blackbird), the saint’s prolonged stillness moves us. The poet probes the saint’s self-disregard, and the poem becomes as much a parable of our need to self-forget in order to connect, as it is an affirmation of the natural, human impulse to lend a hand.
l September, 2011. It’s back-to-school at Thayer, and for Jack Cadigan ’15, a new kid on the block, it’s the frosh stuff of fitting in, finding new friends. One such, Gabe Bresnahan, has been around the block. At Thayer since the 6th grade, it is up to him to carry the torch his elder sisters – Hope ’08, then Sophie ’12 – had lighted, first by starting the Hope for Haiti club, then building it into the beacon for awareness-raising and humanitarian intervention it has become. Their parents, Dr. Steve and Jocelyn Bresnahan, had sown that passion in them, and regular outreach trips with the Saint Rock Haiti Foundation (SRHF) to work alongside adults in its medical clinic have given that passion its real-life, necessary application, helping the Haitian people in their time of greatest need. Active now for over
a decade in a remote, mountainous community about an hour outside the capital of Port-au-Prince, the Saint Rock Medical Clinic became – when a magnitude 7 earthquake struck in January 2010 – a nexus in the region for treatment and recovery. Was Jack onboard to accompany Gabe on a future trip? You can bet your life on it.
Lourdina with Thayer students James Ferrera, Molly White, Hana RobinCaplan, and Gabe Bresnahan on the roof deck of the Saint Rock Clinic in Haiti. (March 2013)
l Meanwhile, Lourdina Chery lies on a mat in her aunt’s ramshackle hut outside Port-au-Prince. She is not yet thirteen. One of only two or three unearthed alive from the rubble of her school, she has not been to school for almost two years. There is no known record of her mother’s cause of death when Lourdina was an infant, nor of her father’s when she was eleven. Post-quake, Lourdina recalls a prolonged fever that hindered her recovery and left her forever feeling weak. But here, in the foothills near the capital with its iconic, fallen palace and famous, smitten cathedral, with cholera and AIDS pandemics raging through the tent cities, and with tens of thousands descended to vie for what little sustenance there is, the chance of a diagnosis, not to mention the short course of antibiotics that would have been the cure, is somewhere between slim and none. For Lourdina, the days are long, as are the nights. Hungrier and healthier, her cousins and the throngs of children running the streets’ foul gutters have more claim, naturally, on everyone’s attentions.
Lourdina post-op at MGH (May 2013)
Lourdina with Jack & Gabe at Thayer Last Chapel (June 2013)
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and Spanish classes to develop skills applicable to the developing world. The three doctors chatted at length as both games, home and away, wound down regardless. Before they knew it, a trip was in the works.
Jack & Lourdina show the scars from teir surgeries (July 2013)
Jack could not have hoped for a fuller freshman year at Thayer. Hoops, as always – pick-up in the off-season, dreams of varsity come winter – tempering the side-effects of overstimulating classes, and the sound friends he makes ’round round tables in the dining hall and the new Student Commons. His excitement at year’s end, as he readies for his trip to Saint Rock, is palpable and infectious. Funny to think that his dad – Jack Senior, a cardiologist at Boston’s Mass General Hospital (MGH) – had shown up at Thayer for his basketball game when in fact the game was away. That that mistake had put the trip to Haiti on his calendar! Gabe had a home game that day, and Dr. Jack ran into Dr. Steve, the latter watching his son’s game. The two had trained together at Boston Medical Center way back in the early ’80s. And so, as they fall in, one thing slips easily to another when they discover the coincidence of their sons’ friendship. Dr. Kenes Eloy, the Haitian-born, Cuban-educated medical director of the SRHF, was with Steve that afternoon, on his first trip to the U.S., visiting area hospitals and practices. He’d met with the Hope for Haiti club, and inspired French
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Outreach trips to Saint Rock accommodate around ten travelers, a commingling of adults with highschool and college kids, living and working communally at the clinic. But the work reaches deep into the community and far up the mountain. Long lines form long before dawn when word gets out Americans have arrived. And the work is multi-pronged. There are goat and micro-loan programs to promote sustainable development; home and school reconstruction projects; the orphanage; the education sponsorship program; water and solar ventures; and so on. The list is an ever-expanding one. There are mountains, after all, beyond this one mountain. But the main provision, at the end of the day, is of medical care, and Jack is only too happy on his first trip, as is Gabe, now on his umpteenth, to work alongside his father seeing patients. Thayer friends, Izzy and Ainslie, are there too, and Thayer English teacher, Jim King, on his first trip, as is Jack’s sister, Andrea. It’s a typical group, connected by tissues of family, friendship, school.
own son’s EKG, Jack Senior paled at the findings. Surely what he saw could not be true. For the remainder of the trip, he kept to himself what no cardiologist ever wants to see, especially in his own son. Followup tests, once home, however, confirmed what the wildly-abnormal EKG in Haiti had detected, a severe congenital heart defect that, left untreated, would mean a future heart transplant or sudden cardiac death.
l In October of 2012, Jack underwent open heart surgery at MGH. Dr. Tom MacGillivray performed the corrective surgery. Notwithstanding some setbacks, Jack made a complete recovery, returned to school, and signed up right off the bat for his next trip back to Saint Rock. He and his family believe that Haiti saved his life.
l Lourdina’s aunt has heard about a medical clinic further up the mountain in Saint Rock. There are American doctors there. For years now, her niece “has something wrong with her,” and – struggling as she is to feed her own children – she knows she can’t take care of her. Steve, Jocelyn, and Gabe are at the clinic the morning Lourdina is presented. They’re there as much to fête the foundation’s 10-year anniversary as to continue the work it does. And Lourdina is simply one of the
When the machine spat out his own son’s EKG, Jack Senior paled at the findings. Surely what he saw could not be true. Early in the week, an out-moded EKG machine is unearthed. Donated several years prior, it had never shown a green light until a visiting, highschool whiz fiddled with the wires. After further tinkering to get it up and running as it should, Dr. Cadigan test-ran it on some students present. When the machine spat out his
many cases encountered daily. Just shy of fourteen, enfeebled and in critical condition, she is incapable of walking more than a few steps. The trusty EKG machine is once more dusted off and plugged in. It is one month after Jack’s surgery. The same electrodes his father had stuck on him are applied to Lourdina. The reading is not good. She is in congestive
heart failure. Before long, the three doctors who’d chatted at a basketball game have formed a team, funded further testing in Port-au-Prince, and confirmed that Lourdina has damaged aortic and mitral valves. Her heart failure was most likely from rheumatic fever, a rarity in the States so easily is it remedied with inexpensive meds. Lourdina requires open-heart, valvereplacement surgery to save her life, but no one is able to perform such a surgery anywhere in Haiti. She is placed in the nearby Saint Rock orphanage, already at capacity, and Dr. Eloy is able to stabilize her condition while the foundation assembles a team of lawyers, doctors, and volunteers bent on bringing Lourdina to Boston. Jack Junior is in the mix. For even though he has never met her, he asks himself that question no one can easily answer: “How come I get gold standard treatment, and not she?” In a follow-up with his cardiac surgeon during which Jack can’t not ask the question, Dr. MacGillivray responds: “If you can bring her here I will operate for free.”
l It took a team of volunteers several months to pave the way for Lourdina’s trip to Boston. Awareness of Lourdina’s plight grew at Thayer and beyond. Anticipation swelled. In the Hope for Haiti club, the beacon burned as it spearheaded fundraising events. The medical and legal and diplomatic grunt-work, as well as the securing of a commitment from MGH – not to mention passport and visa procurations, for an orphan in a still-broken Port-auPrince – were not without obstacles. When the plane’s wheels lifted off the tarmac in Port-au-Prince last March with Lourdina on board – at the end of a mission that again united Thayer students, alums, faculty, and parents – there was no shortage of relief and joy. While staying with the Bresnahan family in Milton, Lourdina underwent a long and vigorous work-up to her successful surgery at MGH in April. Before surgery, and since, Lourdina became
an endeared member of the Thayer community. The decision for her to return in June to Saint Rock, where she continues to regain her strength, was not without ambivalence and the sort of essential, existential questions those who care for her had to ask. She lives, and is well cared for, in the Saint Rock orphanage along with some thirty other girls. She sees Dr. Eloy regularly at the clinic down the hill, and, under the auspices of the foundation’s education program, she is sponsored and back at school for the first time since January 2010.
l In August, Jack and Gabe returned to Saint Rock with a group of Thayer students and parents. Lourdina is as a sister to them both. She is much missed by all who got to know her here, but we take solace from her wellness and happiness, and are fortified by the conviction that the job got seen through. When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, Lourdina mentions becoming a nurse. Comme Jocelyn, she adds, in that whispering, sing-song French of hers. Ou a professeur, she once said, flashing that wicked grin of hers, comme toi, then administering that ferocious pinch she likes to give, a real stinker, the sort one never gets or gets to give anymore! It is hard not to love her.
l There is something of the parable in our Thayer story of Jack and Lourdina. It is not hard to imagine famous Kevin and Saint Seamus smiling on the link forged between the two teenagers, and its out-rippling resonance among the many touched by it. It is a story of two worlds colliding – a school in New England, a community in Haiti – in a dizzying kaleidoscope of fluke events, enough to make more than a few deem it miraculous. It is the story of a pulse radiating outward through a network of human exchange, an exchange between two worlds – one the most, the other the least well-off
in this hemisphere – of resources, both human and scientific, for health and happiness factors in our lives, none of which is eternal. And it is a story, too, of two hearts that come about as close as two hearts can, as improbably as it sounds, to beating as one.
Aidan Rooney P ’07, ’15 has been at Thayer since 1987, teaching primarily French and overseeing Model
are collected in Day Release (2000) and Tightrope (2007), both from the Gallery Press. Mr. Rooney would like to thank the Saint Rock Haiti Foundation for its work in concert with Thayer Academy’s mission, in particular its contribution to the moral and intellectual growth of Thayer students.
HOPE FOR HAITI CLUB The Bresnahan sisters, Hope ’08 and Sophie ’10, can be credited with much of Thayer’s early involvement with Haiti’s plight, but it was not until 2008 that Thayer students Morgan O’Brien ’12 and Anna Kenyon ’12 started the Hope for Haiti Club. Since then, the club has focused on raising both awareness of and monies for various causes in the Republic of Haiti, in particular funding nonprofit organizations such as Food for the Poor and the Saint Rock Haiti Foundation. Since the earthquake of January 2010, the club has grown in active membership and in its awarenessraising campaigns and presentations in the school. The club continues to this day to enhance not just the lives of people in Haiti but the moral and intellectual life of our students at Thayer. Winter Wars Week in February generates no end of much-needed vitamins and medications, soccer players have donated countless balls, and this year, basketball players are planning a fundraising tournament. Dr. Kenes Eloy, medical director of the clinic in Haiti run by the SRHF, has visited Thayer on several occasions, leading discussions in foreign language classes about the challenges in his country, and thanking students for the support they have given.
Pictured above is the Saint Rock Orphanage, where Lourdina’s friends work with donated school supplies and play with beach balls leftover from Thayer’s beach day.
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