On Tuesday morning, January 12th, 2010, the sun crested the hills in Port au Prince, just like every other day. Families crawled out from under their covers, some heading to work, while others tending to each others needs. A day that seemed similar to the last, was about to change; change the world.
25km's West of Port au Prince, at precisely 4:53pm, the earth began to shift. A catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake was about to devastate an already impoverished nation. Only 13 km's below the earths surface, the quake would strike Haiti, its buildings and more tragically its people with grave consequences. Well over 100,000 people died, some estimates reaching three times that number. As the earth continued to shake with aftershocks, more devastation, more pain and more deaths plagued the Haitians. Communication, roads, hospitals, emergency services, all hampered, nearly put on pause due to the damage. Screams and shear panic filled the air, as parents tried digging out their children beneath the rubble; other children left roaming the streets, lost, in hopes of finding their parents. Hopelessness began to fill the air....true and utter hopelessness. A term beyond what most of us will ever experience.
Chantal and I were married July 1999, the year before the Y2K...the infamous millennium bug. Life was good, we were young, really young. But full of love and vigor for life. We were raised in the same country, the same province, playing in the same ocean, but life was very different for she and I. In my home, dinner started with prayer, a song, holding of hands and a bowl of perogies. Chantal's on the other hand, consisted of a feast of roast beef, smelly cheese and other french cuisine paired with bordeaux (wine) and crusty bread. Although very different, God brought us together one summer at Earls restaurant... that's a story for another time.
I must admit, Chantal is a better person than I. Not at golf or hockey, but the important things like loving others and desiring to dig deep with the people she meets; even with complete strangers. She'll initiate a quick "hello" with a "how are you" and follow it up with "so tell me more." Another life changed, albeit so subtly. Me on the other hand, well, perhaps we'll leave that for another time too.
Life was good, really good. Chantal and I both loved the Lord, had a great church, awesome friends, careers and a knack for good wines. We had purchased our first home, had a little guy named Chase and one on the way. Little did we know, our world would be turned upside; about to discover some "hopelessness" ourselves.
Christmas dinner. Just typing that out makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. The memories for most of us at Christmas are joyful, filled with laughter and fond memories. Especially for our family as Chantal's mom always put on the best of dinners. Not only for our family, but the whole family. Thirty people was the going average around the table. I still don't know how she did it, but every year, she pulled it off without a hitch. She was amazing. On April 21st, 2006 God called her home and before she died she accepted Jesus as her Saviour. It was a beautiful thing. Christmas dinner would never be the same, but Chantal rose to the occasion.
It was December 25th, 2006. Chantal was pregnant with our second and feeling, well, a little melancholy. She missed her mom and her ways around the kitchen, but also felt nauseated and weak. Morning sickness, they call it. As I remember, it never lasted just the morning. As the night progressed with our house full of guests, Chantal told me her fingers and toes were sore. I remember not giving it much thought, but as the night progressed it really became painful. That night, around 2AM, she was in so much pain that she went to our local hospital. I had stayed at home, as our little guy was off asleep. I assumed the doctors would give her a pill and send her on her way, but when I woke the next morning, she was still gone. Hmmm, perhaps they (the hospital staff) were really busy. I sent her a text and she replied that they were still investigating, "more poking and prodding." I became concerned.
Five days later and a few ambulance rides to Royal Columbian hospital we found ourselves in the cardiac ward. We were told, that Chantal had an infection in her heart and as it pumped, pieces of the infection would break off and get stuck in her fingers and toes. Like a guy, my response was simple, "lets fix it."
Chantal was lying in a single bed, next to a small window on the 3rd floor. She was wrapped in a bunch of hospital blankets that had been seasoned with their usual fragrance. She was a little sleepy, still coming out of her coma induced trance. The cardiologist had just performed a procedure where they place a camera down your throat to take pictures of the back of your heart. I can't recall the name, but it didn't sound pleasant. As she came to, we began small talk about how she was feeling and what was to come next. At about the same time, a knock at the door brought about a small middle aged man with no hair. He was dressed in the infamous white lab coat over blue scrubs, and as with any specialist, it was all business. He approached our bedside and stated the following. "Chantal, you have a heart infection known as Endocarditis. It is eating away at your heart valves and we need to book you for open heart surgery." My heart sank and panic set in. "I will book your surgery for Thursday (January 4th, 2007). Unfortunately, the surgery is not compatible with your baby, but if we don't operate now, you will go into heart failure within a couple of weeks and could die."
That was it, that's all he said, he went as quickly as he came. We were devastated, hopeless. I left the room and called my dad to tell him the news, I could barely form a sentence. I just babbled through it and told him to come to the hospital. I don't recall what I said that day, just what I heard; the wise and trusted voice of my father. "I'm on my way."
The next few days were a blur, some of which I don't choose to remember. Our little baby was going to die, there seemed to be no hope. Chantal might die if we don't operate as soon as possible...my mind was racing.
D Day was upon us, Chantal's surgery was scheduled for Thursday morning. As the surgical team prepped her for our life changing event, I held her hand and cried. We believed God had a plan for all of this, but it was still so overwhelming. As we reached the doors for the operating room, I said a little prayer, kissed her belly, her forehead. I remember telling her I'd see her in a bit, but truthfully I was scared I'd never see her again. You see, I ask too many questions and my inquisition sometimes gets the best of me. I had made the error of asking Chantal's surgeon all the details and risks of the surgery. I wanted to be prepared, gain control, but none of his answers seemed to reassure me. We'd come to understand we'd lose our child, but what were the dangers to Chantal? Doctor Latham, our Cardiac Surgeon, advised me that the surgery was a difficult one, an 8 or 9 out of 10. He reassured me that Chantal would make it through the surgery just fine, but the risks really began post op. "The next 24 to 48 hours are the most critical," he stated. He was referring to the risks of infections following such a major event.
It was mid afternoon and I got the call the surgery was over. I remember walking as fast as I could to the operating room. There were a few padded seats outside the doors. You know the ones, metal frames, covered in plastic, the odd tear in the cushion revealing the stained foam. The most uncomfortable yet durable seats you can buy. Its all about comfort in time of despair, right!!?? I sat there for 10 minutes, when a nurse came through the doors stating, "Shane, if you'd come with me the surgeon would like to talk to you." I wasn't sure if that was good or bad news, at the time, it seemed more bad than good. She wasn't smiling or frowning, so trying to read her facial clues proved difficult. I followed the nurse, through the sterile halls and back into the cardiac family room. The walk seemed to last forever, my focus locked on her surgical booties, step by step. I recall counting her steps for some reason; for the moment it kept my mind occupied. The room was well lit with multiple windows and a desk in the corner. I sat there with my mom, dad, sister, aunts and uncles, and Chantal's family awaiting some news. A few minutes later, Doctor Latham walked in.
I was sitting in the middle of the room on another uncomfortable chair when he walked in. As he entered, he kindly acknowledged my family and approached. He stated "the surgery went really well, Chantal did great." Then a pause...no joke, a solid and very uncomfortable pause. I knew everyone in the room was dying to hear about the baby. So many of us had such hope. Doctor Latham continued, "your baby survived the surgery!" It was a miracle, nothing short of a true miracle. The room erupted and I jumped to my feet giving Doctor Latham a hug. Tears of joy began to flow. God had spared our child's life.
For those of you who like numbers, our baby was the first in Canada to survive open heart surgery and the 12th in North American history. This was some good news!
On May 30, 2007, Brielle Micheline-Marie Dueck was born. She weighed 6 pounds or something...that stuff doesn't matter to guys. She was alive and in my arms!!
The next year proved trying for us, there were many uphill battles with recovery (from surgery) and raising a newborn. For 6 months post op, Chantal couldn't lift anything over 5 pounds. It was daddy to the rescue and I didn't mind.
We still don't really know why Chantal got that infection. There were rumblings it was from dental work or her congenital bicuspid valve (look it up) or "just because." Whatever the reasons, life had to change for us. During the surgery, a pigs heart valve was used to replace Chantal's aortic valve. It would last 7-10 years, but would need to be replaced. Since she had a heart infection once, she was susceptible to incurring another one. There were other challenges. Gardening without gloves was a no-no. If she cut herself, the bacteria from the soil could seed in her heart again. If she felt sick, mainly flu-like, she was to go to the doctor for antibiotics. Having more children was also a risk for her. Although, not a major risk, it was still something that weighed heavily on our minds. The decision was eventually made for me to become a non-productive member of society. Enough said...I don't recommend it. They claim "no needle, no scalpel," but leave out they actually use scissors. I'd rather the needle thanks.
Life was nearly back to normal and trust me, it wasn't easy. Even though we were all healthy, these large events in our lives don't go unnoticed in our brains. Anxiety, post traumatic stress amongst other stresses really took its toll. Some counseling, prayer and seeking God was the antidote.
January 13, 2009, another hurdle had arrived. Chantal's step dad (Dave) passed away. He had battled colon cancer for sometime and it finally took its toll. He never knew the Lord, nor felt all that spiritual, about anything. But when Micheline died (Chantal's mom), he saw her accept Jesus and that was monumental for him. He eventually made a commitment to God and died peacefully.
As time ticked on, Chantal started talking about having more kids, about adoption. "No thanks," was my reply. "I'd rather stick with two then go down that road." But as every incredible husband does, I entertained the idea...only so I seemed kind and loving. So on February 8th, 2010 we headed off to an adoption seminar regarding Haiti. My wife didn't have to drag me there, but it was definitely a shuffle. As we sat there in the audience of 17, I remember thinking of excuses to leave. I was uncomfortable seeing slideshows of sick kids and hearing the stats about malnutrition and death at such a young age. I kept thinking of my fears surrounding Brielle and Chantal, but imagined it much worse with no real medical system and severe hopelessness. I wanted to help, but couldn't bring myself to truly consider adoption. It just didn't fit in my world, it wasn't part of my plan. I felt like we had enough hiccups in our lives, and I didn't want to add any more to our plates. We'd faced enough and I wanted to just be normal and live our lives.
Lucky for "selfish" me, the adoption process had been closed due to the earthquake in Haiti. So many families had been displaced from one another. The government wanted to give it some time, to ensure that families could be re-united, instead of hearing one day that their child was alive and well but now living in Canada with some strange couple. Some good Government wisdom in that decision. So I was off the hook...for now.
We left the adoption seminar and drove home. Of course, Chantal asked me the obvious question...."So what'd you think?" My response was, "I'm not sure...I just don't think I can do it." At least I was honest. She responded with, "well, lets continue to pray." In our family, all the major decisions are coated in prayer. But for some reason, I couldn't bring myself to pray about it. I would say the odd "If its in your will" but never truly cared what the response would be. I spent the next 3 years with with that specific prayer on the shelf, until June 30, 2013.
Sunday mornings...ahh, sleeping in, some morning golf on the tele mixed with a strong cup of costco coffee. What could be more enjoyable. We are a church going family and have always been. We make Sunday's a priority because God is our "˜cornerstone.' God has done amazing things in our marriage. He is our first priority. For those of you reading this who don't go, I encourage you to start. Don't expect it to be full of perfect people, but instead recognize that everyone there is sick...it's truly a hospital for the soul.
So there we are, wandering into church. We shuffle to our usual seats, not that they're assigned, but we've been going for so long, that they just always seem to be available. There's always more room, so don't let this discourage you from coming! It was a good morning. Some familiar faces, some good friends and presumably an incredible message awaiting delivery. Little did I know, this day would change our lives and in some small way, the world.
Our head pastor, Jeff Buchnam, was preaching this Sunday morning. For those of you who don't know him, he's from the "˜merica' aka USA. He's a big stoutly man, with dark hair and poor fashion sense. So these ways, he and I have a lot in common. He's plain in his looks, but sharp in his teaching. A man who is faithfully committed to the church and teaches the word of God. This is what you want in a pastor; he'd say so himself. Pastor Jeff was preaching out of the book of 1Timothy chapter 4. The message pointed to the importance of sharing the gospel to all groups regardless of their social or ethnic category. Simply that Jesus died for all of us. It was a fantastic sermon that really struck a chord with me. But it wasn't so much the overall message that resonated in my heart. It was some key points that were highlighted along the way.
Now keep in mind, sometimes when God does amazing things in a man's heart, they remain mysterious to others, even to the person affected. Pastor Jeff pointed to Matthew Chapter 25, where Jesus is talking to his disciples on the Mount of Olives. He's teaching them about the "end times" and what true salvation looks like.
Jesus states "Then the King will say to those on his right, "˜Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, "˜Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, "˜Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' (Matthew 25:34-40 ESV).
Some could read this and assume I must have felt threatened to act or harshly persuaded to follow the text out of obedience. But when I heard these words and reflected on them, God softened my heart; he nudged me. That's as specific as I can get. There was no real enlightenment here or specific thought that ran through my head, it was simply a nudge. This was the first of five tasks God was gonna do in my life that day.
After the message, the worship band started playing some songs. About the third song in, my eyes began to water and I started to feel quite emotional. The song really started to move me. I tried to hold it, not wanting anyone to see the tears forming in my eyes. What was going on? Still, no enlightenment or specific thought, just more of a nudge...my heart was softening; but for what. This was God's second task.
Following the service, I approached a great friend of mine, Todd. I hummed a line from the song I'd just heard and asked if he knew the name. He told me the song was called "Cornerstone," by a worship group called Hillsong Live. Thanks to the wonders of technology, I downloaded the song within minutes. Task number three, check.
After each service, there is some mingling that goes on. I think my wife likes this time more than me as we are usually one of the last couples to leave the church. I should get a key and save the janitor some time by locking up. Regardless, as we were about to make our way out of the church, our friend Lisa approached me. She stated she had some exciting news to tell me. "We're adopting from Haiti" she exclaimed. "Congratulations," I stated, "that's awesome!" She shared with me the process and how God had been working in their lives. How her husband Ken was totally unsure and unwilling until God did something in his spirit that really changed his heart. I nodded and smiled thinking, "˜good for you...now I don't feel as pressured to help!' I briefly shared our story and how Chantal and I were divided on the daunting process and that was it. We left. Nudge nudge. Task four, complete.
Chantal and I had planned a trip down to the US that afternoon as I was on holidays. We own a small plot of land on the way to Mt Baker in Washington. It's located inside of a private plot of land known as "The Glen." OK, its a glorified campsite with running water, but truly a great time for our family to get out in the woods. We had planned to meet Chantal's uncle and aunt down there for a few nights to catch up. I had to complete a few errands at home, so Chantal and Brielle left before me. Late that afternoon, Chase and I packed up and headed for the border.
One thing you need to understand about our kids, is how different they really are. Brielle is me incarnate, well personality wise. She is a real card, comedian, wears her heart on her sleeve kind of girl, and simply precious. Chase on the other hand, is more reserved, a real thinker, decisions are based on the facts, never emotion. If it makes sense, then "lets do it," he'd say.
So there we were, driving to the Glen with a playlist shuffle playing from my iphone. The song "Cornerstone" came up next and as we were listening to the song, I began to tear up again thinking "what is happening to me?" Then, without any warning, our lives changed. The only way I can explain it is in a matter of seconds, God, through the holy spirit, flicked the switch in my heart. It was open heart surgery in a matter of seconds. We were to adopt from Haiti and there was no doubt about it. To make matters more confusing, I was over the moon about the idea and couldn't wait to get going...book the tickets, fill out the forms...lets bring home a child! While these feelings flooded my heart, I turned to Chase in the back seat and said, "I think we need to adopt from Haiti Chase." He turned to me with a half cracked smile and stated "I do too."
When I arrived at the Glen, I was burning to tell Chantal, but she was busy with family and the timing wasn't right. So I waited until I had her alone in our trailer. I told her I had some very good news and that she might need to sit down. She looked at me bewildered yet curious to hear my heart. I told her that God had spoken to me and shared with her my story, that we were to adopt from Haiti. Tears erupted from her eyes, she was thrilled and we gave each other a huge hug. We were adopting.
Once home, we contacted a Kelowna Adoption agency and started the process...a lengthy one at that. Haiti only re-opened for adoption in December of 2012 so no one really knows how long it will take. But based on pre-earthquake stats, it was averaging 1 to 3 years. I'm guessing it will be around the same, but could be as long as 5 years...hopefully not. Regardless, we will wait and exercise patience.
One of our biggest hurdles will be the selection process. Basically, its a process where you state what you and your family is willing to accept. For instance, do you want a boy or girl, what age, will you accept a child with asthma, skin disorders or missing limbs. This is where we'll need some prayer. The more you are not will to accept, the harder / longer the matching process will be. It will be immensely difficult to discern what to say "yes and no" to. Especially when you feel so called to this journey.
Our second hurdle is one of finances. The process is not cheap and will cost us approximately $35,000. This includes travel expenses (3 trips back and forth - Government mandated). Here's the breakdown:
Canadian Adoption fees: approximately $11,000 USD
Hatian Fees: approximately $13,000 USD
Travel Expenses: approximately $10,000.
The adoption process requires 3 separate trips to Haiti.
Trip 1: Arrive in Haiti to sign legal documents of adoption
Trip 2: Arrive in Haiti and volunteer in the orphanage for 2 weeks...this will be an amazing experience.
Trip 3: Arrive in Haiti and pick up your child.
Its amazing to look back and see where we've been, what we've endured. By no means have we suffered greatly, but we've got some wounds; we all do. And its ringing true, over and over again, that true suffering brings out true joy. How can you truly understand joy unless you've understood true suffering. The Bible talks about this in the book of James (James 1:2-4). Joy comes from a heart of gratitude regardless of the obstacles we face.
Chantal and I have sensed a turning leaf so to speak; a chance to pay it forward. We've been in a place of hopelessness, where we simply didn't know how to carry ourselves except to put one foot in front of the other. It was then that we were carried by the prayers and love of others and one another.
Here we are many years later, stronger in spirit and moved by the verses in Matthew 25. Not because of how it makes us look or out of "works," but rather because its truly good for us, it's a testament to how we were wired...all of us.
So now is the time. It's our turn to place some hopefulness into the lives of the hopeless. We can't wait to get started!!
Thanks for all of your help, prayers, support and encouragement. We are truly blessed and hopeful!
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