Jenice Armstrong: Jenice Armstrong: Remembering those who got to me, and to you, this year

Merlande
Merlande
Posted: December 30, 2010

TOMORROW is New Year's Eve and my final column of 2010. So I decided to check in with some of the people I interviewed during the year and also update some of the topics I wrote about in the past 12 months.

Abington treats Haitian girl

Little Mirlande Felime was sucking on a bright red lollipop and facing a room of TV cameras and reporters that first time I saw her, on July 19.

Mirlande had traveled from Haiti to this area for lifesaving surgery. Born without an anus, the 2-year-old also had an orange-sized tumor that needed removal.

Her doctor would soon discover that Mirlande had been eating small rocks, plastic, cement pieces, insects and straw, most likely to quell hunger pains.

Thanks to the generosity of Abington Memorial Hospital, which not only arranged for her flight but housed her father in an apartment, Mirlande finally was able to get the medical care she desperately needed. During a news conference earlier this month, Mirlande was toddling around a hospital conference room in a fuchsia sweater dress, charming everyone. Her doctor, Dr. Ala Stanford Frey, announced that Mirlande was finished with her surgeries and had been discharged from Abington.

Good news, but the unanswered question was: What would happen to her now?

Mirlande, who has developed a taste for Popsicles and yogurt, is too medically fragile to return to Haiti, which is experiencing a cholera outbreak and still rebuilding after this year's devastating earthquake.

But the immigration status of her parents is uncertain. Her father's visa expires this summer, which means he may have to return home.

Working with the Haitian consulate, Abington officials have reached out to the little girl's 19-year-old mother, but efforts to get her have been hampered by the mother's lack of identification.

On Christmas Eve, Mirlande and her dad flew to Miami where they spent the holidays with a relative. The plan is for the two of them to remain in Florida indefinitely or at least until their immigration status is decided.

Speaking through a translator, Felime has told hospital authorities that if he is unable to remain in the United States, his hope is that Mirlande will stay behind under the care of a legal guardian and be adopted by an American family.

Some of you may recall that in a previous column about Mirlande, I volunteered to take her. My husband and I weren't looking to add to our family, but when I learned that Mirlande's dad was considering homes where she might live, my hand shot up.

I've always wanted a daughter, but I acted in haste. This would be a huge commitment and one I really should have discussed beforehand with my husband before volunteering.

Pageant booster battles cancer

In September, I wrote about how Kevin McAleese, the heart and soul of the city's annual Miss Philadelphia Pageant, is gravely ill.

What touched readers about this story is how after serving tours of duty in Bosnia and Iraq, and devoting so much of his time to helping young women, the retired Army Reserves colonel is now having to fight just to stay alive. In March, doctors diagnosed five malignant brain tumors, one inoperable.

In the words of a home health aide from the Northeast who recently asked about him, "You have someone like Col. McAleese who is so giving, so caring, the kind you wish you could clone and is now being forced to deal with something that is just so devastating and frightening . . . I have been praying for him and his family ever since I first read the article."

This week, when I didn't get an answer at his home, I reached out to his longtime Miss Philadelphia assistant, Agnes White, who said that McAleese spent the holidays with relatives in the North Jersey/New York area.

"We had orientation last week for Miss Philadelphia and he was there and he got up and gave his spiel like he always does," White told me. "We're all hopeful that this continues.

"We're always praying for a miracle."

New lease for homeless mom

Back when the city was abuzz about the controversy surrounding Carl Greene, the now-former head of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, I wrote about a 28-year-old mother of five who was upset about being evicted from her Section 8 apartment after falling behind on her rent. Tanya Robinson was upset that her family was homeless but tenant activist Asia Coney, who earns an annual salary of $101,170, got to live in a PHA home.

"I think it's unfair, especially if she has the means and can afford better," Robinson told me. "Some of us are actually low income. The only way we can afford housing is through the housing system."

When I learned of her situation, Robinson - who has five children with three different men who don't provide financial support - was hiding out from one of her ex-lovers in an abused woman's shelter. In late September, she sent a text informing me that she was about to sign a lease on a new Section 8 apartment in an undisclosed city.

I meant to get right back to her but I didn't and by the time I tried calling her, I got a recording saying that her number doesn't accept incoming calls.

Bush vs. West

Some of you were infuriated when I wrote about former President George Bush's being annoyed at Kanye West. I was called a racist and worse after I poked fun at the way Bush had been harboring a grudge about what West had said about him.

You recall how West famously blurted out during a Hurricane Katrina telethon, "George Bush doesn't like black people." During an interview to publicize his new memoir, "Decision Points," Bush called West's claim one of the most "disgusting moments" of his presidency, which was ludicrous, considering that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, America's entry into two wars, the Wall Street meltdown and Hurricane Katrina all happened on his watch.

In my piece, I wondered why Bush would even go there. West is a "jackass," as President Obama has called him. He's known for making outrageous, off-the-cuff statements, such as the time he jumped onstage, interrupted Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at the MTV Awards and said that Beyoncé should have won.

Bush not only wrote about West's characterization of him but talked about it on NBC with Matt Lauer. Well, he got his apology last month when West expressed regret, saying, "I would tell George Bush: In my moment of frustration, I didn't have the grounds to call him a racist.

"I believe that in a situation of high emotion like that, we as human beings don't always choose the right words," West told Lauer.

Bush has accepted West's roundabout peace offering.

And "Decision Points" is No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list.

Kardashians carded

I warned readers in November not to buy that predatory prepaid debit card that the stars of "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" were hustling.

After negative backlash from consumer advocates and at least one attorney general, the Kardashians backed out of the deal.

Obama's habits

In August, I weighed in on the subject of President Obama's religion and the disturbing number of Americans who insist that he's a Muslim.

I referenced a Time magazine poll and also a Pew study, both of which showed that a sizable number of voters cling to the idea that their president isn't a Christian as he says he is. Last week, the Associated Press reported that Obama, who is vacationing in Hawaii, took his family to a Sunday church service where he dipped the communion wafer in wine before placing it in his mouth.

The article didn't indicate what the president prayed for while at the chapel but maybe it was for people to stop second-guessing his spiritual beliefs.

In another column, I wrote about the president's nasty smoking habit and how quitting could be a lesson for all the Americans who still light up.

According to the White House, despite all that Obama has been through with the midterm election beat down and fights on Capitol Hill, he hasn't had a cigarette in nine months.

Let's hope he keeps it up in 2011.

Send e-mail to heyjen@phillynews.com. My blog: http://go.philly.com/heyjen.

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