Light of Hope
A Huntington College team recently demonstrated that determination and a little imagination can bring the Lord’s tender mercies to others — in this case, a tiny baby with a dangerous medical condition and an entire community that became enthralled with her fate.
Published in the Spring/Summer 1996 edition of the Huntington College Magazine
Her name means “hope” in the Creole language. But until recently, eight-month-old Guerline Espoire had precious little to hope for. The tiny infant was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, a life-threatening condition caused by the buildup of fluid on the brain. At three months of age, she was abandoned at a Haitian hospital. When surgery proved unsuccessful, Guerline was left to die at a Port-au-Prince orphanage.
It was there she met a group of Huntington College students. The college team-led by Dr. Winfield Wetherbee and Huntington physician Bill Webb, father of student Matt Webb — had come to Haiti during January Term to participate in a wide variety of learning experiences and volunteer service projects.
Disfigured by the swelling of her head but still alert and charming, Guerline stole the hearts of the Huntington College team. When they returned from Haiti, they began an effort to bring the infant to the United States for life-saving surgery.
“This procedure is risky,” Dr. Webb told the students. “Guerline has a very advanced case. However, death is certain if surgery is not done soon.”
Thanks to the generosity of many people, Guerline was flown to Forty Wayne for treatment. American Airlines, Lutheran Hospital, and neurosurgeon Isa Canavati all donated their services to the tiny patient.
On a chilly morning in early March, seventy Huntington College students got up before dawn to begin a prayer vigil for the baby’s surgery. A dozen members of the HC Haiti team went to the hospital to pray and sing and hope.
After two anxious hours, they received good news: the surgery was successful.
Today, Guerline is recovering, thanks to the compassion of Dr. Webb and his team of HC students. She’s eating well, gaining weight, and beginning to move her head. For the first time in her life, she is laughing.
Doubtless Guerline’s laughter stems in part from the drastic improvement in her physical well-being. Bur, surely, it also derives from yet another good turn in her fortunes: Raymond and Janet Cloutier and their three natural children offered Guerline what every child needs most-the unqualified love and acceptance of a family.
Guerline now wakes up each morning and goes to sleep each evening as the youngest of four siblings who live in a comfortable house in the country with a splendid backyard. She’s been baptized into a lovingly supportive Christian congregation in nearby Warsaw. The legal particulars of her adoption by the Cloutiers, slowed by dealing with a foreign government, are inching toward closure.
The Cloutier’s decision to adopt a special-needs child came long before Guerline’s much-publicized plight. That decision, in fact, was made before Bill Webb and the Huntington College team ever boarded an airplane for Haiti.
After much prayer and discussion, the Cloutiers had decided to as Fort Wayne-based Lutheran Social Services of Northern Indiana to help them find and adoptive child. The Cloutiers were determined to adopt a special-needs child, for whom finding an adoptive family is always more difficult and sometimes impossible.
Ironically, the Cloutiers had paid only glancing attention to publicity surrounding Guerline’s arrival from Haiti. News reports said that another area family had agreed to adopt her. They were surprised when Lutheran Social Services phoned and asked if they would consider adopting Guerline. They learned the other adoptive family had reconsidered.
Ray (an engineer for an orthopedic-implant company) and Janet (a full-time mother) drove to Huntington to meet the Webbs, at whose home Guerline was staying, and immediately fell in love with her. Over the next several days, they took their three children — Elisabeth, Kevin, and Paul — to meet Guerline. They, too, were enchanted.
One evening, a number of Huntington students gathered with the Cloutiers at the Webb’s home and prayed, holding hands in a circle. Ray and Janet will never forget that moment. “I had heart of Huntington College,” Ray says, “but knew little about it. But I was moved by these young people’s faith and their optimism and hope.”
Equally, the Huntington College team was struck by similar qualities in the Cloutiers. But Ray and Janet are adamant that Guerline, now called “Lina” by her adoptive family, was a gift to them and their children — a blessing, an answered prayer.
“We’re not heroes,” says Janet. “We’re lucky people.”
“This was a tremendous example of how the Lord can work through small situation and really change people’s lives,” says Dr. Wetherbee, who served as faculty advisor on the Haiti mission.
“I’ve been at HC for 19 years, and never have I seen an incident take the college by storm like this did. The students went to Haiti with the right attitude, wanting to serve the Lord, and then they showed a lot of enthusiasm when Guerline came back. The kids were really involved spiritually, and this touched the whole campus.”
“I cannot remember a time when I’ve been so proud of the students at Huntington College,” says G. Blair Dowden, president. “A life was saved because of their compassion, faith, and hard work.”
John Paff, Huntington College’s public relation director, found his office inundated with cards, letters, and stuffed animals for baby Guerline. Gifts came from all over northeast Indiana as people responded to Guerline’s story and the Christian message within it.
“In a culture obsessed with physical perfection,” Paff says, “Dr. Webb, Dr. Wetherbee, and the student team taught us all a lesson about beauty, value, and the dignity of every human life God creates.”