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One year after the earthquake, a tiny Haitian survivor's new life in Tampa

TAMPA

A little girl of almost 3 races to answer a knock at the apartment door. Her head, spiky with tiny plaits and rainbow barrettes, attaches to the first leg it finds. Fritzcar Pierre will not let you pass without a hug. The Haitian girl shows off her toys, peering through a blue balloon with a brown eye that not long ago was an inflamed red ball. With her left hand, she steers her beloved pink and purple princess tricycle.

Fritzcar can carry a black comb in the nub that remains of her right arm. She doesn't sit still long enough for you to examine the fist-sized circle on the back of her head where hair still does not grow, or the swirl of scars along her forehead and cheek.

One year after a two-story house in Port-au-Prince collapsed on her family, burying her in rubble for five days, Fritzcar demands her favorite foods in English: macaroni and cheese and french fries.

She has recovered from three surgery-filled months at Tampa General Hospital, which treated several dozen of the Haitian patients airlifted to the Tampa Bay region for medical care.

She has learned to use the potty. She has stopped asking for her mama.

Look how far she has come, her father said softly in Creole on Wednesday, the one-year anniversary of the earthquake. His translator was the Catholic Charities worker who settled them and another family into a small, tidy apartment near Gandy Boulevard.

Fritznel Pierre raced home from work after the earthquake struck. He saw no signs of life at the house that had fallen in on his wife, daughter, nephew and cousin.

Five days later, an uncle looking for clothes saw a tiny foot moving. Fritzcar was alive.

To a father who lost everyone and everything else, she is a miracle, one with a toddler's boundless energy.

On Wednesday, she threw a minor tantrum when her father refused to squeeze into her tricycle's tiny seat. It passed in seconds, and she was back to babbling into a plastic telephone.

Fritznel Pierre's gaze drifted between his daughter and a distracted stare. Memories of his old life, and how it ended a year ago on this day, replay in his mind.

Someday, he will tell his daughter how her mother, Vivane Nicolas, died at age 22. He will say she was a good mother. Not a day goes by that he does not think about her face on the day they decided to get married. When he looks at Fritzcar, he sees the nose and cheekbones of her mother.

Fritzcar has started calling another woman her mama. The woman, a fellow Haitian evacuee at the apartment complex, has a 13-year-old daughter who lost a leg in the quake. The two girls have become as close as sisters.

Fritznel Pierre's remaining relatives in Haiti are sleeping under tents. He says his daughter wouldn't have survived if they hadn't been evacuated. But in the next two months, the one-year humanitarian parole letting them stay here expires. A case manager at Catholic Charities is seeking an extension, but does not know if it will be granted, or, if so, for how long.

At a special church service Wednesday, the 31-year-old father prayed for a good life for his daughter. He wants her to get an education. He hopes he can find a job and make enough money for surgery to repair her scarred face.

Fritzcar doesn't appear to notice the scars. But her father says she does seem to miss her arm, trying sometimes to grab things before she realizes it's not there.

Next week, she will get a new arm, a prosthesis that will always be a reminder of how much she has survived.

Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3322. For more health news, visit www.tampabay.com/health.

>>Fast facts

How you can help

Information on donating to Catholic Charities Diocese of St. Petersburg to help Haitian evacuees in Tampa Bay is at www.ccdosp.com or call (727) 893-1313.

One year after the earthquake, a tiny Haitian survivor's new life in Tampa 01/12/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 13, 2011 4:09pm]
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