Written by Colleen M. Sullivan
I was told the story of a miracle. I am a believer in miracles, but I cannot recall ever being told a first-hand account! This miracle was told to me by Dr. Jack Cadigan. I have known Jack for almost 25 years. We were neighbors when our kids were younger and we have remained friends as our kids have grown up. He is a cardiologist, and followed in the footsteps of his cardiologist dad, John B. Cadigan, Jr. He has practiced medicine in Boston and local area hospitals for almost 30 years.
In August of 2012, Cadigan and two of his children went on a trip to help the people of Haiti, but this was something they never planned or expected to do. Only after a chance meeting with an old associate, did the plan to go to Haiti come to fruition, but that chance meeting turned out to be a life saving mission, correction, make that a “two lives saved” mission!
After spending an entire afternoon talking with him a few months ago, I noticed that he seemed different. It was obvious to me that his trip to Haiti last summer and the events that occurred in his life after returning home had changed him.
Even his view on medicine, his way of thinking about human nature and his outlook on life had all been altered. He would be the first person to say that he has changed for the better since the miracle that took place in Haiti.
Within the family of not one, not two, but three John B. Cadigans, the youngest is Jackie. He was 16 when he travelled to Haiti and it was the summer before his junior year at Thayer Academy.
One Saturday in the Spring of 2012 Cadigan decided to drive to Thayer to watch his son, Jackie play basketball; unbeknownst to him, when he walked into the gymnasium he found out that his son’s game wasn’t being played there, Jackie was playing at an away game! But Cadigan bumped into an old friend, Dr. Steve Bresnahan and they got reacquainted. Quite a few years back, Bresnahan had been an Intern at Boston City Hospital when Cadigan was a Resident. Bresnahan’s son, Gabe, who was also a student and basketball player at Thayer Academy was playing basketball that day; it was his team that had the home game.
While reconnecting with Bresnahan, Cadigan was introduced to another doctor, Dr. Jean Kenes Eloy. He is the Medical Director at the Saint Rock Haiti Foundation. Cadigan learned all about this Foundation from Dr. Eloy. He also learned that Bresnahan’s wife, Jocelyn, is the Board of Directors, Chairperson. Bresnahan told Cadigan about his trips to Haiti and how important his volunteer work as a doctor was. He then suggested he might like to join him on his next trip!
After that unexpected encounter, Cadigan gave the idea some thought but could never have predicted the course of actions that would follow. It was much later on that he wondered how much of meeting Bresnahan and Eloy that day was by “chance” and how much was divine intervention?
In June, Bresnahan followed up by calling Cadigan and told him his plans to go to Haiti in August and suggested they “take the boys”! By doing so, the doctors could volunteer at the clinic and the boys could volunteer at the school and the orphanage.
Having absolutely no idea that this was going to be a life-changing trip, Jack decided it would be a good experience for him and his son, so the plan was made and to go with Bresnahan and his son, Gabe, and take both his son, Jackie and his daughter, Andrea.
The group arrived in Haiti and Cadigan said it was like “turning the clock back to the 1800’s”. No running water or electricity, and all that could be seen was poverty. There was a shallow stream that ran through the village, but it was used for bathing, washing clothes and all other personal needs; this was the same water that was boiled for cooking. The most difficult adjustment to being in Haiti was the smell. “It was a constant odor because the people burn everything.” With 100 degree temperatures and humidity, the smell was just horrendous.
Haiti’s devastating earthquake in 2010 was two years prior, but sadly, Haiti was still in ruin. The earthquake killed 400,000 people in 15 seconds and there are 10 million people currently living in Haiti.
Only two days into the trip, Cadigan found an old EKG machine at the clinic which had been donated approximately 8 years earlier. It was an old model and hadn’t ever been used at the clinic. With no electricity, the only way to work it was to fire up the gas generator which was outside of the clinic to charge the battery. Cadigan saw this piece of machinery as a challenge, but he also saw it as a great opportunity, so he worked on getting it started and ran into numerous problems. It took a few hours to finally get it working and he wanted to test it out. Jackie was walking by, so Jack suggested he use him as the test subject.
Asking Jackie to be the test subject made perfect sense. His son was a healthy, fit, athletic, teenager, so he was an ideal candidate. Nothing could have prepared Cadigan for what happened next. He ran the EKG and immediately noticed that “something was wrong!” Hoping it was due to the machine being old or the leads being incorrectly set, he tried it again. What he saw shocked and scared him. His 16 year old son’s heart wasn’t working as it should. The EKG showed 2 of the 3 wires that made Jackie’s heart beat were not working! “That was completely abnormal”.
“Dad, am I okay?” questioned Jackie when he saw his father’s reaction. Cadigan had to think quickly and he made the decision to tell him “everything was fine”. Cadigan didn’t know what to think. They were in Haiti and his son had a serious condition, a life-threatening condition and he could do nothing. He needed to talk to Bresnahan and tell him. Jackie had no symptoms. There was never any indication of this problem. “I had to tell myself that I can’t think about it” said Cadigan. He had to put it out of his mind until they got back home.
Throughout the rest of the trip, for another 6 days, Cadigan successfully used the EKG machine on many patients. He did close to 100 EKG’s on the people of Haiti. Patients would line up outside the clinic at 3a.m. waiting to be seen and often times were diagnosed with diseases such as Typhoid Fever, Malaria, worms and Cholera. Doctors Cadigan and Bresnahan worked side by side with Dr. Eloy every day while Jackie, Andrea and Gabe spent time at the school and orphanage with the children. Having brought a duffle bag from home filled with pencils, beads, and crayons, the three teens enjoyed interacting with the children. “The kids loved it!”.
During those 9 days in Haiti, Jackie met many children. He and a young boy named John became friends. When it was time to head back home, Jackie was saying goodbye to the children he had met and John was quite sad to see him leave. Not knowing of his own medical issues, Jackie told John “I’ll be back….I will see you again!” Jackie promised John that he would return.
Only days after the Cadigans returned home, Jackie had an Ultrasound. The doctors instantly saw what was wrong. Jackie had Atrial Septal Defect (ASD). According to the American Heart Association, ASD is defined as “A "hole" in the wall that separates the top two chambers of the heart. This defect allows oxygen-rich blood to leak into the oxygen-poor blood chambers in the heart. ASD is a defect in the septum between the heart's two upper chambers (atria). The septum is a wall that separates the heart's left and right sides.”
Jackie had this condition since birth. It was unrecognized because he had no symptoms. But the tests showed his right heart was huge. All Cadigan could think of was Jackie could very well have been one of those student athletes that would die on a sports field or on a basketball court. A kid that seemed so “healthy” but because of a hidden and undiagnosed heart condition, he was a walking time bomb. If Jackie’s condition hadn’t been caught, if he hadn’t walked by that EKG machine at that precise time, if he hadn’t been on the trip at all, so many “ifs”! Cadigan knew the outcome could have been tragically different based on any of those possible circumstances. If Jackie had continued to be undiagnosed, most likely he would have suffered congestive heart failure at some point and then he would have needed a heart and lung transplant. All this could have happened. But it didn’t because of the miracle in Haiti!
On October 12, about one month after being home and two months since that fortuitous EKG, Jackie had open heart surgery at one of the finest hospitals in the world, Mass General Hospital. The surgery repaired the congenital hole in his heart. He returned to school full time in January of 2013!
Jackie’s recovery had its ups and downs, but the entire Cadigan family was relieved when he finally was healed and feeling good. When the stresses were lessened and things seemed to be getting back to normal, Cadigan received a call from Bresnahan. He was calling for a favor. A pre-teen Haitian orphan girl named Lourdina, had come into the clinic, they ran an EKG on her (using the same machine as Jackie) and they diagnosed her with a similar heart condition. Bresnahan asked Cadigan, “Do you think you can help her?”
Knowing that Jackie got the best of care at Mass General, Bresnahan hoped that something could be done to get Lourdina to the United States and receive surgery there. This was a big undertaking and it took time and much red tape to get it done, but it was Jackie, who asked his surgeon, Dr. Thomas MacGillivray, at a post-op appointment if he would perform the surgery on Lourdina and he agreed that if Cadigan could get her to Boston, he would do the surgery!
In April 2013, Lourdina came to Boston and met Jackie. He showed her his chest and scar and tried to communicate to her what her surgery would be like. She seemed to understand. Near the end of April she had her surgery which involved replacing two heart valves due to an acquired rheumatic heart disease. This young girl had gone through much pain and suffering in her life. Only two years prior, in 2010, her mother died from Rheumatic Fever and her father was killed in the earthquake. Lourdina was one of the earthquake survivors. She had been trapped for two days under boulders. Her head was lodged between cement blocks and the boulders above protected her. She was eventually freed from the ruins and she bears some scars on her thigh from the earthquake. After losing both parents, she moved in with her aunt for a short time, but her aunt was not well and unable to care for her, so Lourdina was sent to the orphanage.
Bringing her to the United States for surgery was a huge undertaking. She didn’t speak English and she had never been anywhere but Haiti. Seeing Boston and being in the United States to undergo surgery was overwhelming but she was brave. The responsibilities of her surgery and her post-op care were risks that Jack Cadigan and Steve Bresnahan were willing to take; they also knew they couldn’t leave her in Haiti to die.
Lourdina’s surgery went very well and she was healed and well enough to return to Haiti in June. It was difficult for all involved to send her back to her homeland and back to the orphanage. Jack and Jackie both promised her that they would return to Haiti and visit with her. How could they not “give back” when Haiti had changed their lives? They were committed to the people of this country and pledged to never forget them.
On August 1st, all three Cadigans made a second trip to Haiti and made sure they saw Lourdina with their own eyes. “She looked great (she gained 15 pounds) and was doing very well”, said Jack. “She was so happy to see us and it was difficult to leave her again. We enjoyed being with her again and we would like to bring her back to the States if we can, at some point.”
Lives were changed and lives were saved, these were truly miracles in my book!
For more information about Saint Rock Haiti Foundation website, www.saintrock.org