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Latrobe nurse part of team that saved Haitian orphans

Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010

One day after returning from Haiti with a plane full of orphans, Excela Latrobe Hospital nurse Connie Moore was back at work.

A little tired, Moore, a surgical nurse manager, nonetheless was exhilarated by the trip, a rescue mission that brought dozens of children to Pittsburgh.

Accompanying Moore, 56, was her daughter, Jennifer Moore, 24, of Irwin, a nurse at Allegheny General Hospital.

Monday's trip was orchestrated by Gov. Ed Rendell, Rep. Jason Altmire and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

"We talked a bit about what our hopes and plans were on the plane going down," Moore said Wednesday.

Flying into Port-Au-Prince, the team saw lights.

"When we landed, we realized the lights were all fires that people were using for light, maybe to cook, if they had food," Moore said.

The airport had one runway, and the air traffic control tower was destroyed.

As it turned out, the children were not at the airport. After waiting for a military escort that did not arrive, Ben Avon sisters Ali McMutrie, 22, and Jamie McMutrie, 30, who operate the BRESMA orphanage, took the children to the U.S. Embassy.

The orphanage sustained severe damage in last week's earthquake.

While some members of the team met with the children, others stayed at the airport.

"We had tons of medical supplies we were leaving there," Moore said. "We unloaded our own plane. Nobody knew each other, really. I thought it was a well-gelled group. You made new friends. It was fun."

At the embassy, she said, the children were given water and Pedialyte, along with some snacks.

"It was more important to get electrolytes in them and get them rehydrated," Moore said.

"Those kids were not afraid," she said. "It was just like a new adventure for them. They found things to play with (including) squirting juice boxes. We had quite a party. You could tell they had been very loved and nurtured and cared for. I think that speaks a lot for those girls. There was no fear. They trusted you. The babies went right to you and curled up."

The children spoke little English. But they seemed familiar with one snack food.

"Chips," Moore said. "That was a big word."

"We had an opportunity to evaluate them as best we could, make sure none of them were (badly) hurt," she said.

There were a few stuffy noses and upset stomachs.

"There was not a cut or scratch on those kids," Moore said, despite having slept outside for days. "They were blessed kids."

The plane the rescue team flew in on was ordered to leave, and the group ended up hitching a ride home on a C-17 military transport plane.

"It was enormous," Moore said.

The 53 children, ages 11 months to 12 years, flew out of Haiti late Monday and arrived in Pittsburgh on Tuesday morning with the contingent of officials and Ali McMutrie.

"She is just such a delightful girl," Moore said. "They (McMutrie sisters) are mature beyond their years."

On board the plane, she said, nearly every child had their own caregiver.

Many of the children were younger than four.

"We had Toddlerville and Babyville," she said.

After a while, the children ventured into the empty middle of the plane and played with toys and coloring books.

The plane made an initial stop at a military base near Orlando then continued to Pittsburgh.

The hand-off at the airport to Children's Hospital officials was "well-orchestrated," Moore said.

"One thing was really hard for us," she said. "They attached really quickly. When they cried for you when you handed them over -- it was like handing over your own kids."

On Wednesday, Jamie McMutrie and 2-year-old orphan Emma, who was discovered missing during a head count before the plane took off from Haiti, arrived in Pittsburgh.

Many of the team members did not see a lot of the earthquake's devastation until they returned home and watched the news.

"It's very overwhelming to realize that's what you lived," Moore said. "We didn't see all of the components."

The children received medical exams at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and were found to be in relatively good health. Some spent the night in a conference room "comfort room," surrounded by toys and stuffed animals.

County officials and volunteers from the American Red Cross and Catholic Charities arranged temporary caregivers to keep the children.

Most of the children were well along in the adoption process, Allegheny County officials said. By Wednesday evening, several were already heading home with their new families.

"We had a small group, and we were able to see them through," Moore said. "You knew you really made a difference."

"It was an experience I would do again in a heartbeat," she said.




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