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Haiti boy, 5, survives nearly 8 days under rubble

Monley Elize is found by his uncle, who assumed the boy had perished but was looking for his body after digging out those of his parents.

January 21, 2010|By Scott Kraft

Reporting from Port-Au-Prince, Haiti — Gary Elize was gloomily looking for one last body Wednesday in the flattened apartment where his brother and sister-in-law had died: that of their 5-year-old child. He said he spotted the boy's leg in the rubble and put on a pair of surgical gloves, preparing to extract it.

Then, the leg moved.

Elize told of how he and several friends dug furiously in the steamy heat and unearthed Monley Elize -- dirt-caked, dehydrated, emaciated and scuffed up, but otherwise unhurt.

Monley's first words were whispered. "I want some juice."

Trapped for nearly eight days -- seven days, 21 hours -- the boy was alive.

Gary Elize raced into the street with the boy in his arms to find a ride to the hospital.

The man who stopped was Neil Joyce, 54, a San Diego doctor with the Los Angeles-based relief agency International Medical Corps. Joyce put Monley and his uncle into the car and drove to the IMC clinic in the sprawling General Hospital, near the ruins of the presidential palace.

When Monley arrived, nurses and doctors started an IV.

"He could barely talk, he was so weak," said Gabriella McAdoo, 35, an IMC emergency room nurse who works at Stanford University Medical Center. "Then he started perking up. It's absolutely just a miracle. No fractures and hardly any scrapes."

Speaking from his bed at the clinic an hour later, Monley said he felt "fine," and drained a bottle of water in a few seconds.

"That's his third one since he got here," McAdoo said.

His uncle said Monley, his father and mother lived on the ground floor of a three-story apartment building in east Port-au-Prince. Both of Monley's parents died in the temblor, a fact that the boy seemed a bit too dazed to fully absorb.

Elize, who also lost his home, had pulled the bodies of Monley's mother and father out a week ago and buried them. He had resigned himself to the sad task of picking through the rubble to find his nephew's body, and had been working on the rock pile for several days, feeling no sense of urgency because he was convinced that the boy was dead.

Monley said the day of the quake had been his father's birthday, and his father was relaxing in the house as they prepared to celebrate. When the apartment began to shake, Monley said, "I tried to run but a door fell and blocked me, and my shirt got ripped." He said he knelt in a corner of the apartment, with his head cocked to the side, as the building came down. And that's how they found him.

When Joyce arrived on the scene, he saw a crowd of 50 people gathered around a man who had tears in his eyes and was holding a small child covered with dust.

"I thought, oh no, a dead child. But as I got closer, I could tell the child was breathing."

The crowd was trying to help Elize and his nephew into a crowded bus, so Joyce stopped and offered to take them to the hospital. They climbed into the car and Joyce noticed that "the child's head was floppy and he was whimpering. His skin was deeply wrinkled and showed signs of severe dehydration."

"The whole thing really was a miracle," Joyce said. "Here was a devastated place with tremendous needs, and when you see something like this happen, and a crowd that was so clearly excited and happy . . . well, it was really inspirational."

Gary Elize, 24, is Monley's only surviving relative, and he is concerned that he won't be able to properly care for the boy. Elize doesn't have a job, and he's been living in a tent camp near his old home.

"I don't have anything, and I don't see how I can do this," Elize said. "But I know I must."

Monley's chart at the clinic read: "Found under rubble after 8 days." And it noted that he had complained of "belly button pain."

"He was so thin when he came in that his belly was almost touching his back," McAdoo said. He was placed in a bed and, smiling weakly, gave one doctor a fist-bump.

After three hours in the clinic, Monley had taken a few bites of rice and appeared to regain a little strength.

"You're going to be sore," McAdoo told him. "But you're just fine."

Dr. Colleen Buono, from San Diego, questioned him, making sure he knew his name and could identify his uncle. She said he was ready to leave, making room for others.

The IMC staff dressed Monley in an X-Men T-shirt and Spider-Man shorts. They helped him to his feet and, though wobbly, he clearly was remarkably unscathed. The doctors decided he could be discharged, but they sent him to the hospital pediatric ward overnight, as a precaution.

As the nurses and doctors who had treated him gathered to watch, Monley was carried in his uncle's arms down the hill to the pediatric ward.

Sometime today, Monley will return to the streets where miracles are rare.

scott.kraft@latimes.com

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