At the edge of the pool, 9-year-old Rebecca Borcelian leaps into the water, clambering into the shoulders of Dr. Chad Perlyn. Perlyn swims around the Orlando hotel pool, ferrying Rebecca on his back.
Meanwhile, a gaggle of 17 laughing, splashing Haitian children surround Perlyn, their pied piper. When he heads toward the giant water slide at the Nickelodeon Suites Hotel, the kids – some with scars that bisect their hairlines, one with an amputated arm, others with less obvious wounds – follow.
The kids, who have spent the past five months being treated at Miami Children’s Hospital and living in extended-stay hotels, arrived in Orlando on Wednesday for a treat: their first vacation.
“Today is about stopping being patients and started to be kids again,” said Perlyn, a plastic surgeon who, along with a team of doctors and nurses from Miami Children’s Hospital, was among the first medical teams in Haiti after the nation’s devastating earthquake in January.
There’s cause for celebration. Five months ago, the 17 children arrived in the United States in terrible condition. One had gaping facial wounds infected with maggots; Rebecca developed an infection from a flesh-eating bacteria. Some children had severely broken limbs and doctors discovered another child had undiagnosed leukemia.
On Wednesday, they were just like the other kids at the hotel pool.
“In Haiti, you encounter one obstacle after another,” Perlyn said. “We just wanted one day where the water slide is their biggest obstacle.”
So Perlyn and a team of nurses have brought the children to Orlando – where they will spend two days splashing in pools and heading to Universal Orlando. For the children, whose only experience has been in Haiti or in a hospital and hotel rooms in Miami, the sights are unfathomable.
“I haven’t ever seen anything like it,” said 9-year-old Exais Peterson, looking around at the Nickelodeon pool, where a team of entertainers douses people with green slime – and where Sponge Bob rules over the pool. Asked what he likes most about his vacation, Peterson, through a translator, said, “everything!”
Each child has his or her own devastating experience. Exais – whose family calls him Peterson – was watching television with his cousin when the earthquake hit Port-au-Prince. The ceiling collapsed on them, killing Peterson’s cousin and burying him in mounds of rubble. After four days, neighbors dug Peterson out of the wreckage and took the boy to a nearby convent. There, he was given first aid, then sent home.
Days later, when his mother brought him to the University of Miami’s makeshift field hospital, Perlyn unwrapped the boy’s bandages and discovered hundreds of maggots. “He lost most of his cheek and scalp,” Perlyn said. “His whole body was infected.”
Perlyn operated on him four times in Haiti, then Peterson and his mother were flown to Miami, where he underwent seven more operations.
Today, Peterson’s story has a happy ending. Though his left ear is missing its lower lobe and his cheek looks pockmarked, he is healthy and well. And thrilled to be dashing about in the pool.
The doctors and staff at Miami Children’s Hospital decided that Peterson and his fellow patients deserved a break from their hospital routines and dubbed the two-day trip “The Haiti to Orlando Adventure.”
Each child and a parent or relative, along with a team of hospital staffers, boarded a bus in Miami on Wednesday morning for the trip. Universal Studios donated tickets to the group and the Nickelodeon Suites Hotel provided complimentary rooms. Wal-Mart donated bathing suits for each child and the remaining expenses were paid by donations to the Miami Children’s Hospital Foundation.
Yet on this trip, everyone has a chance to think about something other than hospitals.
“For many of them, this is the first time out of their hotel rooms,” said Carolyn Domina, a nurse who first met the patients in Haiti and volunteered to chaperone this trip. “You can see the joy on their faces.”
To see pictures and see the full article please go to http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/os-haiti-orlando-adventure-20100512,0,1428104.story