Frantz Azemar is a 6-year-old boy from Haiti who will now live to see 7. Two months ago, that wasn’t a given.
It took an international organization, a slew of Rotary club members, and a local man who opened his doors to make sure Azemar got that far.
Rotary Club member Greg Visconti’s family spent four generations in Hoboken, far away from the political unrest and deteriorating infrastructure of Haiti. But when the local Rotary group asked for a volunteer to host a young Haitian child and the child’s father for a few months, Visconti stepped up.
“It is the Rotary mandate to serve the community,” Visconti said.
Frantz Azemar had a heart defect at birth, but the medical staff in Haiti misdiagnosed the condition. He lived there with his parents and six brothers and sisters in Croix de Fleur, near the capital of Port-au-Prince. The family speaks Haitian Creole, a French and Creole mix, although his father knows a little Spanish.
Azemar lost his breath when he moved around too much, so he rarely went far. He was so sick he never attended school in Haiti and still hasn’t learned how to read and write.
He came in contact with the Rotary International program called Gift of Life, which was also the group that the Rotary Club of Hoboken was working with for their 2008-2009 international service project.
Among the Hoboken club members was Visconti, who lives in Morristown and runs a financial planning firm on Paterson Avenue in Hoboken. Visconti has been a part of the Rotary Club of Hoboken since 1992 and served as president in 1999.
The Rotary clubs are part of Rotary International, which has over 1 million members worldwide. They are service-based groups of business and professional leaders who provide humanitarian service worldwide, promote high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill.
Greg meets Frantz
Gift of Life assigned Hoboken Rotary to Azemar’s case. The Hoboken Rotary Club donated $3,000, which was matched by their local district. They all wanted to get him to America as soon as possible to find out what work had to be done for his heart defect.
When he finally came to the United States in April, doctors diagnosed him with balvular spinosis.
“Basically the [heart] valves didn’t work; they were shot,” Visconti said. Doctors also found two holes in his heart.
“His medical condition was far worse than we thought,” Visconti said. “When we walked from airport to car – only 20 feet away – he was panting. And from the car to house, he was on the floor panting.”
At Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, where Azemar was treated, doctors donate time for Gift of Life and the hospital donates surgical supplies and space.
At the first evaluation for Azemar, a doctor told Visconti, “ ‘We’ll never make him perfect, but we can fix him so that he can live a good life. Without surgery he just would have gotten bluer and bluer until he died.’ ”
“When I think about it, it brings a tear to my eye,” Visconti said.
Azemar had surgery last month and after spending 10 days recovering, he was a new boy.
After three days resting, Visconti recalled, Azemar wanted to get out of bed.
“He took my hand and we walked around the complete corridor of hospital,” he said. “About 100 times further than he had ever walked before.”
Keeping Frantz healthy
Azemar goes back to Haiti this week after fully recovering from the surgery.
“I look forward to reuniting with them somewhere down the road.” – Greg Visconti
The club members already donated medical supplies, clothes, cash, and other necessities to the family, especially since Azemar’s father was out of work for two months to bring his son here.
Visconti is glad Azemar is healthy, but impressed upon him the need to catch up at school.
“I will miss them both,” he said last week. “I look forward to reuniting with them somewhere down the road.”
He added, “Frantz is a great kid. You look at him and you melt. He’s a gentleman and respectful, but most of all he’s really brave. He’s Superman in my eyes.”
Timothy J. Carroll may be reached at email@example.com.