Exclusive: Baby Landina, brought to the UK for life saving surgery after she was pulled from the rubble in Haiti, is finally reunited with her mother.
Marie Miracle Seignon – whose name translates as Mary Miracle – broke down and wept when she came face to face with Landina at a London flat, after Facing the World brought her to Britain from Haiti.
Hailing from one of the worst slums in the Haitian capital of Port au Prince, it was the first time Marie Miracle had left her island nation, and the first time she had ever travelled on an aeroplane.
The mother told Channel 4 News: “This is very emotional for me. I had thought Landina was dead and when I heard she was alive I was in shock, and then overjoyed and could not wait to come here.
“Seeing her now in reality is a shock to me because I last saw her as a little baby with two hands, now she has only one. Even though I had seen her in pictures I didn’t believe it. Now it’s real.”
The story of how Landina was injured and lived through the earthquake after the hospital she was in collapsed is a remarkable tale of survival. In an ironic twist her life was actually saved by the earthquake even though she was nearly killed by it.
The tiny baby had initially been injured in a house fire caused by candles in late December, and was being treated at the burns unit at La Trinite hospital in Port au Prince when she was separated from her mother. When the earthquake struck some days later, the hospital buildings collapsed around her.
I first came across Landina’s story after the baby had been pulled from the rubble two days after the earthquake and moved to another hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières called St Louis. Her right arm had been amputated and she was suffering from a serious head injury, caused by the burns.
But this move brought her face to face with a doctor who was determined to save her. At St Louis field hospital she was treated by British surgeon David Nott, a specialist from London, who recognised that the clock was ticking for the sick baby.
Dr Nott, a volunteer in Haiti, felt she only had days to live if she didn’t receive a critical operation on her badly burnt skull, which had left the burnt bone dead and exposed her to risk of a fatal brain infection. Baby Landina needed to be evacuated as the complex operation could not be done in Haiti.
After many days arranging papers and travel documents, Landina was finally evacuated to Britain. At the time no one knew where her family were, or even if they were alive.
Facing the World, a British charity that specialises in craniofacial reconstructive surgery for children from around the world, became Landina’s temporary guardian after they brought her to Britain. The charity covered all of her medical costs and is trying to raise money for Landina’s ongoing treatment as well as long term future. Having arranged the critical medical assistance the baby needed, the charity were obliged to try to locate Landina’s family.
The charity had been trying to trace family members but establishing an accurate picture was very difficult. In late March, I returned to Haiti documenting the search for Channel 4 and began to assist Facing the World in locating Landina’s relatives.
The saga of Landina throws into focus a lot of the issues confronted by the relationship between aid workers and media on the one hand – and the desperate inhabitants of a disaster-struck zone on the other.
Initially I was led to people who claimed they were part of her family. One man claimed he could be Landina’s “uncle”, suggesting that his sister, missing and presumed dead from the earthquake, could have been Landina’s mother. I later discovered that his sister had never had a child.
It seems with the publicity around Landina’s story, some Haitians felt they might benefit if they could persuade the charity that they were real family members.
One of the problems in tracing her genuine family was the lack of any documents, with the records from La Trinite hospital apparently being buried in the rubble of the collapsed building. There was not even a confirmed name for Landina’s mother or any other family.
In the end, after interviewing surviving medical staff from La Trinite I was told that the mother was believed to be alive and possibly living in a slum area of Port au Prince called Bizoton – a shanty town of low rise shacks with sewage running through the streets. At this time I had just made an appeal on local radio for any information about Landina’s family.
Following some further leads, I arrived in Bizoton and after explaining who I was and my quest, I was finally led to the home of Marie Miracle Seignon, a 26-year-old mother with three other young children (pictured). She had an admission card from La Trinite hospital which bore Landina’s name.
When I showed her a picture of Landina she confirmed that it was her daughter.
She said: “When the notice was put out on a radio, a friend raced to my house and said please sit down. She said: “this may sounds like something from the movies but sometimes movies do come true. I need to tell you that Landina is alive.” I didn’t believe at first, and even after the reporter came and showed me the pictures I was still hard to believe.”
After a DNA test was conducted to confirm Marie Miracle was indeed Landina’s biological mother, the charity Facing the World, Landina’s temporary legal guardian, arranged for a passport and visa for her to visit Britain.
Assisted by the charity, Marie Miracle will be staying in London for six weeks before returning to Haiti, and over the coming weeks she will try to re-establish bonds with her young baby.
Challenges for the future
But the saga of Landina throws into focus a lot of the interesting issues confronted by the relationship between aid workers and media on the one hand – and the desperate inhabitants of a disaster-struck zone on the other.
Some people would say that our attention given to individual cases like Landina does a disservice to all the many thousands of equally vulnerable children in Haiti left behind. And even if you disagree with this – if you think for example that personalising tragedies makes it easier for people to develop sympathy – the case of Landina still has unresolved questions.
On the one hand the charity will not return Landina to Haiti until she is fully recovered and healthy, but she is supposed to return to a country where even access to primary health care is a challenge. Think too about all the hospital and charity workers who have developed a bond with Landina in London, and would like to continue to support her in the future, but are concerned whether she would be able to get such devoted care and attention back in Haiti.
Don’t forget that Landina’s original burns injury was caused by the poor conditions in her local area, raising question about how children in Port au Prince ‘s poorest slums are cared for.
Landina’s story is a heartwarming tale of survival – yet also a more complicated story of how you provide care for victims of a disaster.