Changing Caroline and Esmeraldas’s world…
Caroline and Esmeralda Leger are beautiful identical twins, two-thirds of a set of triplets whose third member is their brother Eduardo. They are natives of the Dominican Republic.
Each girl was born with no functioning pulmonary artery and a hole in her heart. When they were three years old their parents sent them to friendly strangers a thousand miles away to be healed, so that they could live healthier lives. Normal lives. Long lives.
Many Healing the Children stories begin in just this way. Children with serious and challenging medical conditions—they’re our stock in trade. Sending critically ill children back to their parents hale and hearty, plump and rosy—that’s what we do. If you’re a frequent reader of this newsletter you may be thinking, no functioning pulmonary artery, hole in the heart—sounds bad, but I know what happens next. Great doctors, heroic surgery, loving host family. Everything turns out fine.
This is a different story. Even
though we make our best, our very best,
effort to heal every single hurting child
who comes to us, sometimes it just
doesn’t turn out right. We can’t, and
wouldn’t want to, pretend otherwise.
Some things simply cannot be reversed or mended or cured.
So Caroline’s and Esmeralda’s hearts were not mended. They suffered from irreversible pulmonary vascular obstructive disease. But as you will see, healing of another kind took place. This story is so much like life itself—full of love, sorrow, and grace. Here it is, in the words of Caroline’s host mother, Laura Cassel.
This is the story of Caroline Leger and her identical twin sister, Esmeralda. They were born with the identical heart problem, pulmonary atresia.
They arrived with an escort who informed me that Caroline was deaf and could not talk, or communicate at all. This is one of those minor details you can’t prepare for—all the Spanish children’s books I’d collected weren’t going to be of much use. I quickly exchanged them for books on sign language, and it became clear that this might be an effective way for us to at least pretend we were communicating.
Esmeralda, however, could hear and speak, but of course only in Spanish. My friend Leigh Hook, her host mother, couldn’t speak a word of Spanish, so I guess we were on level playing field from the start.
adjusted beautifully to life here. We were concerned about separating them,
but we decided that perhaps they both thought it was a good thing. Imagine being the
only one being doted on when you’re one of a set of triplets. Not so bad! They ate well,
slept well, brushed their teeth well, hugged well, and reminded us all just what it was like
to see the world through the eyes of a three-year-old. The toys were everywhere, our
dog was amused, and it was simple pleasures that gave us joy—a giggle, a hug, walking
hand-in-hand, watching an airplane in the sky.
After a lot of
tests and a few long days in the hospital, it was determined that both twins
were inoperable. We were all devastated. We were so geared up to help these
children. “Nothing we can do” sounded very cruel. Our faith finally brought us to the
conclusion that God knew and cared for them and that it was our privilege to share a part of their short lives.
In that spirit we asked Healing the Children to help us with Caroline’s hearing, and we set off on another journey, much different from the first. After many tests the experts agreed that hearing aids would be effective. A wonderful audiologist at Mott Children’s Hospital did a significant amount of research on the best aids for Caroline’s home situation.
I will never forget the day Caroline could hear for the first time. She turned around in her stroller after her appointment, trying to see where the clicking of my heels on the tile floor was coming from. That was the first time I had ever seen her react in that way. Recognizing sound was immediate and profound for her.
We met Esmeralda and Leigh for lunch and explained the “audio phones” to Esmeralda. It was a very tender moment when Esmeralda reached up to them as if to say, “Thank you for helping my sister.” The girls were so sweet with each other, but we knew they were frustrated because communication was so hard. But Caroline immediately became more alert and attentive when she began to wear her aids, and we dream of the day the sisters can talk to each other.
I witnessed a miracle by way of Caroline. I had found some electronic toys that used both English and Spanish before I knew she was deaf. After we got her hearing aids, we brought them out, and they were all she played with. I thought I might lose my mind if I heard “adios” one more time—and then it happened. She repeated after the toy . . . “adios.”
I cried and clapped and nearly scared her to death, I think—but I was simply thanking God that a girl who had lived in silence had received the gift of sound and language.
Caroline’s and Esmeralda’s heart doctors were Dr. Richard Ohye, Dr. Joseph Graziano, and Dr. Gerald Serwer. Caroline’s ear, nose, and throat specialist was Dr. Peter Passamani, and her audiologist was Ranjani Krishnan.
Laura Cassel, her husband Scott, and their children were Caroline’s host family, and Matt and Leigh Hook and their children were Esmeralda’s host family.