In the very best conditions, Nika had a 5 percent chance of surviving her own birth. Her chance to live beyond that? So abysmal there isn’t a number to quantify it. She wasn’t born in a state-of-the-art facility, and she is missing part of her brain. She was born in Haiti. It’s likely she received little to no prenatal care and after birth was no different. When she was 11 months old she weighed 6 pounds (and half of that was the fluid in her head) and was found on the dirt floor of a hut surrounded by trash with used condoms littering the space.
On the day this reporter met Nika she was recovering from a surgery at Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Lafayette under the care of Carencro-native and once missionary in Haiti Sarah Conque.
“I saw her and I knew I could do something; I could not walk away,” Conque says.
Nika is missing a large portion of her brain. Doctors believe her body absorbed part of her brain tissue before she was ever born. She should not be alive. In even the best conditions her existence defies statistics. She should not be able to smile, hold an object in her hand or connect. And yet she does all of these things. She will be 3 in September. She has those beautiful rolls of a child not yet walking. She looks to Conque and her boyfriend with clear recognition. She is comforted by their voices, their presence and their touch. It’s a fact undeniable once you’ve seen it.
“People told us she was not worth the time or resources. And she can’t talk. But, already she has a lot to say,” Conque says.
Tears fill the 28-year-old’s eyes when she recounts the story of Nika and particularly her neglect and abuse. But there is also joy that is reserved for mothers when Conque speaks about this little girl.
The journey to cross Conque and Nika’s paths began when Conque headed to Haiti to serve as a missionary at an orphanage in the recreational therapy area. And it was in this place she met Nika at 3 months old when a woman claiming to be her aunt brought her in with concern about the large size of her head.
Conque and the orphanage worked to connect the woman with resources to care for her child and as time unfolded it became clear she was the mother and that she was either unable or uninterested in caring for her child.
“We are passionate about family preservation,” Conque says.
It was with that passion in mind that Conque worked to give the mother the tools to care for Nika. The Carencro native was adamant that poverty or lack of resources not stand in the way of this mother’s chance to raise her child. Despite their efforts, by the time Nika was 11 months old it was clear the lack of care was close to costing the young girl her life.
When Conque and a pastor went to check on Nika they found her on the floor of a hut, emaciated, alone. People in the village didn’t realize the mother even had a baby. Conque says it’s likely because of the size of Nika’s head due to the fluid.
“There’s such a negative stigma,” she says, explaining when there is a physical problem there is a cultural belief that the mother was a prostitute or punished, perhaps there were demons inside the baby’s head (much of the belief rooted in Voodoo culture pervasive in the community).
“I see this baby surrounded by trash. She weighs 6 pounds and 3 or 4 pounds of that is fluid in her head. She was neglected. This precious baby,” Conque says. “I was angry, but I was called to show the mother grace and I said ‘I love you and I’ll be back.’” Conque returned the next day and asked the mother for permission to take Nika and care for her. The mother agreed. It was just the beginning of Nika’s journey in many ways.
Find Nika’s journey online at theind.com and view a photo gallery chronicling her journey from the dirt floor of a Haitian hut to Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Lafayette.
Email Amanda Jean Harris at [email protected]