Local

Wichita couple desperate to save son

Before Haiti's catastrophic earthquake, Ross Haskell and his wife, Jean Griffith, wanted nothing more than to complete the adoption of a 17-month-old Haitian boy named Alexander.

The Wichita couple have invested their hearts in bringing Alexander home to his baby-blue bedroom, already decorated for him. Over the past eight months, they have visited him at his orphanage in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. Although the adoption was still months from being final, they already think of him as their son.

But since the quake, the couple say, they are desperate to save Alexander and about 150 other children from his orphanage who are taking refuge in a driveway, subsisting on dwindling supplies.

The children and their nannies don't venture back into the three orphanage houses for fear the structures could collapse.

"The ground's still shaking," Haskell said.

They have no bathroom, nowhere to put dirty diapers.

Although the children were OK after a quick evacuation following the initial quake, "The situation is getting more and more dire," Haskell said Friday.

When he and his wife sat down to talk about the situation, they looked worried, tired, on the verge of tears.

The immediate survival need for his son and the other orphans is safe drinking water, Haskell said.

"Water is... the No. 1 concern."

Alexander needs water for his powdered formula.

The orphanage is normally a 10- to 15-minute drive from the capital's main airport. But because of infrastructure damage and airport bottlenecks, getting aid to survivors remains difficult.

Haskell, a 38-year-old software company marketing director, and Griffith, a 38-year-old Wichita State University English professor, have been on the phone with an adoption coordinator. That person is trying to communicate with the orphanage staff about how and where they might get basic supplies.

An orphanage staffer told Griffith by phone: "It would be a real shame to survive the earthquake and die of diarrhea."

After obtaining a supply of clean water, the next step in the children's survival is evacuating them from Haiti as soon as possible, Haskell said.

The orphanage staff keeps telling the couple: "Get us out of here."

The couple have been in contact with congressional offices. "I think they are working the connections," Haskell said. "We believe the government officials are doing what they can at this point."

Because of the earthquake, and the interruption in the adoption process, Haskell said, he and his wife realize "our adoption may never happen."

"We realize Alex may never live in this house."

But right now there is something more important, he said: "We are his parents, and we want him to live."

Haskell and Griffith walked up to the second floor of their College Hill home to show the bedroom they have prepared for Alexander.

A hand-painted tree shades one wall. Carved wooden giraffes — a big one and a small one — stand in a corner. Bright paper dolls from Haiti rest on a shelf.

In their visits to the orphanage, they have come to know other children besides Alexander. When the orphans see visitors, Haskell said, they gather around.

"They just want to be held.

"We want them all out of there."

Asked if he had advice for Kansans who want to help, in a country already beset with terrible problems, Haskell said: "Don't forget (the crisis in the days ahead), and understand the severity of the issue. Give what you can... to charities that you trust."

Haskell and Griffith know some of how Alexander became an orphan.

Not long after he was born, somebody brought him, in healthy shape, and left him at a hospital in a Port-au-Prince slum.

A doctor found the baby boy at a hospital entrance.

There is a reason Alexander was left there, Haskell said.

"We believe it's because somebody wanted him to live."

Related stories from Wichita Eagle

  Comments