Plane carrying orphans from Haiti on its way to Pittsburgh

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A rescue mission to bring as many as 61 orphans back from Haiti ran into a snag last tonight, when one plane was forced to leave the children and members of the party, including Gov. Ed Rendell, on the ground.

But the rescue party and the orphans were able to get aboard another plane, a military C-130, that departed from Haiti around 11 p.m.

A chartered plane that carried Mr. Rendell, U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire and a team of medical professionals, flew to Haiti yesterday from Pittsburgh International Airport, but the plane was forced to depart before officials could resolve some documentation issues, said Gary Tuma, a spokesman for the governor.

Mr. Tuma said officials scrambled to secure another plane to bring the orphans back to Pittsburgh.

The orphans ranged in age from 1 to 4.

The chartered jetliner left Pittsburgh around noon and stopped in Miami, departing there shortly before 4 p.m.

Medical personnel from several local providers made the trip, and the plane carried thousands of pounds of medical supplies.

According to the plan, the children were to be waiting at the Port-au-Prince airport and immediately board the plane, which was under orders to leave within two hours. Problems with documentation held he process up and the first plane was forced to depart.

When the children arrive in Pittsburgh early this morning, they will first be taken to Children's Hospital for evaluation, Mr. Tuma said. Children's scheduled a press conference shortly after midnight to discuss the mission.

Catholic Charities has made arrangements for their care until they are adopted.

Mr. Tuma did not know whether any of the children have serious injuries from the earthquake, which destroyed a large part of their orphanage.

About 90 other children from the orphanage are being taken in similar rescue missions conducted by the Dutch and French governments, he said.

The Pennsylvania mission was arranged with various agencies including the U.S. State Department, Department of Homeland Security and military.

"The reason the governor is personally on the plane is that the Haitian ambassador thought it was important to have someone of his stature on the plane so if the mission ran into difficulty he might be able to break down some of the barriers," Mr. Tuma said.

He said he did not know how the mission was being funded.

The mission came in response to messages last week from sisters Jamie and Ali McMutrie of Ben Avon, who said this month's devastating earthquake endangered the health of 130 orphans in their care at the Bresma orphanage in Port-au-Prince.

Among those waiting anxiously for word about the mission was Kristin Heaton, who with her husband, Scott, has been working for more than three years to adopt two Haitian girls who live at the orphanage.

"It's so hard. I just want my girls home," said Ms. Heaton, of Roca, Neb. Her family is hoping to adopt a 7-year-old and 2-year-old from the orphanage. She had no word tonight whether the girls were among those scheduled to travel to Pittsburgh.

The medical team included representatives from UPMC, West Penn Allegheny Health System, Pittsburgh Mercy Health System and Excela Health.

Among those on board was Mary Carrasco, director of A Child's Place in the Pittsburgh Mercy system, which provides care for children who are abused, neglected or in foster care. With her was a Haitian interpreter who speaks Creole to communicate with the children, according to Joan Mills, who works in Dr. Carrasco's office.

Over the days leading up to the trip, Dr. Carrasco and her team gathered medical supplies including Pedialyte, wipes, diapers, cups, bottles, pacifiers and other items to care for the children, most of whom are under 5 years old.

Ms. Mills said they expected to find children beset with dehydration, diarrhea and other problems related to lack of food, water, health care and sanitary facilities. The plane was permitted to be on the ground in Haiti for only two hours before being required to take off, she said.

Also on board were Joyce Leifer, a pediatrician who is associated with Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC; Ed Sites of the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work; Connie Moore of Excela Health's Latrobe Hospital, who has experience as a pediatric nurse; and three professionals from West Penn Allegheny: Chip Lambert, an emergency medicine doctor, Deborah Bohan, a physician's assistant in pediatrics critical care at AGH Suburban, and Arc Balest, a neonatalogist.

In addition to its personnel on the flight, West Penn Allegheny was preparing to receive children at its Suburban Campus in Bellevue if necessary, said Dan Laurent, spokesman for West Penn Allegheny Health System.

"Suburban Campus is the site of our inpatient pediatrics program -- including pediatric critical care. Dr. Susan Kaczorowski, a pediatric critical care specialist and chair of the Department of Pediatrics, has been involved locally in the effort. She said the on flight medical crew will likely be triaging the kids on the flight to determine who needs to go where," he said.

Luke Hingson, president of Pittsburgh-based international charity Brother's Brother Foundation, said sponsors of the flight, whom he declined to identify, offered space on the plane to carry medical supplies. He said the organization provided "several thousand pounds" of supplies, including antibiotics, surgical packs and instruments.

The offices of Reps. Mike Doyle and Sens. Bob Casey and Arlen Specter also were involved in arranging the flight, but Mr. Altmire was said to be leading the effort.

His spokeswoman, Tess Mullen, would say only that he was "doing everything he can to bring Jamie and Ali home safely."

Allegheny County as of yesterday had identified more than 300 licensed caregivers ready to provide housing to the children, spokeswoman Megan Dardanell said.

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Jon Schmitz can be reached at jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868.


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