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Deseret News in Haiti: Med student discovers a daughter to adopt

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Bill Betz asked to borrow a cell phone Friday to make a call home to his wife, Amy, in Fort Worth, Texas.

The life-changing call confirmed the culmination of one effort and the start of many more, including a new family in Texas and a new partnership linking Utah and Haiti.

"Hello, babe. Can you hear me?" Betz asked in a near-whisper, his voice choked with emotion. "I'm sitting here with our little baby girl."

His fingers gently caressed the shoulder and back of a small, thin Haitian girl sporting a pink blouse, oversized white briefs and a pair of doe-like brown eyes timidly surveying new surroundings.

Amy asked for the details — age, size and appearance.

They had already agreed on a name — Lauren Elizabeth Betz — for the orphaned Haitian girl, her parents said to have died in the massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake that rocked the island nation Jan. 12, followed by aftershocks.

Lauren Elizabeth. Perhaps as old as 4, but more likely closer to 2 or 3. Extremely thin. Closely cropped hair. Occasional tears Friday afternoon, more from being tired than being scared.

"I'll try to send you a picture," Bill promised Amy.

While the couple talked, little Lauren Elizabeth slurped soup fed her by Marie Alice Laurent, first lady of the sprawling compound owned by her husband, Rene Laurent, an engineer and contractor who has worked closely on Haitian construction projects for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Though not a Mormon, Laurent has opened his home, guesthouse and compound this week to a visiting team of LDS volunteer doctors and nurses from Utah and the rest of the United States providing post-quake care.

Betz and a half-dozen Haitian women from the Laurent compound carefully scrubbed his new daughter from head to toe and found her the pink outfit.

One of the LDS medical volunteers, Provo critical care nurse David Sindel, examined her and declared she was basically healthy — but malnourished. Very quickly, little Lauren Elizabeth had become the object of attention and affection.

Bill Betz, a medical student, arrived in Haiti with a group of students and a medical college dean in the first days after the earthquake to do what they could. Betz hooked up with the LDS team after his group returned to the U.S.

Married for five years and unable to yet have children, the Betzes recently had talked about adoption. With Bill volunteering in Haiti, the talk of adoption increased; the couple and their extended families made it a matter of prayer.

"We felt like the Lord held us from having children so that we could adopt, that our family members were already out there," he said.

Amy Betz received her personal confirmation while attending at the Dallas Texas LDS Temple, telling Bill to watch for a little girl with a pot belly from malnutrition and big, brown eyes. She checked the Internet adoption possibilities in Port-au-Prince and relayed the name and address of an agency she found.

Thursday afternoon, Bill Betz and Brandt Andersen, a Utah entrepreneur and developer who is in Haiti helping with logistics for the visiting LDS-sponsored medical team, left with a Haitian driver in search of the orphanage, driving into one of the capital city's worst slum areas.

Getting lost in the maze of narrow streets and alleys, Betz and Andersen asked for help, driving as far as they could and then setting off on foot for the final half-mile before finding an orphanage mired in shabby conditions.

Some 50 Haitian children ranging from newborn to 12 years and their care-giving local pastor had been forced out of their severely damaged, uninhabitable house, taking bunk beds out into the yard and draping towels on the sides to provide protection from the intense Caribbean sun to crudely create a makeshift shanty.

The children acted like they had never seen a Caucasian before, touching skin and hair before reaching out to hold hands. They'd certainly never seen prospective adoptive parents before.

"These are slum babies," Andersen said. "These are kids someone found and dropped off at the orphanage."

Incredibly, it was not the orphanage the two were looking for — the pastor hadn't even heard of the first.

Instead, they had stumbled across an orphanage without a home, without any recognizable name, without outside funding, without any U.S. connections and without much food.

Essentially, an orphanage without much hope, but swelling in population since the earthquake.

Surrounded by 20 eager children, Betz didn't care for the "pet-store shopping" feelings he was having, until he spotting a little girl standing off to the side by a tree. He had his "that's her" moment, walking over to kneel down by her and quietly speak in what for her was unrecognizable English.

Asked if he wanted to still look for the original orphanage, he repeated: "This is her."

That wasn't the only adoption project resulting from Thursday's late visit to the slum-surrounded orphanage. Also touched by the experience, Andersen had found his "new baby" as well, wanting to rebuild the orphanage.

Andersen has teamed with Laurent, the latter donating land for a new orphanage and the former to fund the construction of the facilities. They're already talking about building more than a house; they want to construct a school and a playground, too.

Betz, Andersen, Sindel and Laurent went to what was left of the orphanage with food, tarps and some salvaged lumber to provide the remaining children with the crudest of temporary roofs over their heads.

All of the children who had suffered cuts and abrasions from the earthquake were treated by Sindel, the lone "medico," during the quick construction efforts.

When all of the treats were gone and it was time to go, the children surrounded the men. Unable to share a common language with the benefactors, they spoke their thanks in a Haitian song.

With Andersen's help, Betz has started the paperwork for adoption and relocation of Lauren Elizabeth to the United States, working with the original orphanage, another orphanage run in Port-au-Prince by an American woman, and by initiating efforts with the U.S. Embassy.

Some Haitian adoptions take many months, even years, but Betz and Andersen hope to streamline the process and, given the circumstances and favorable climate, have Lauren Elizabeth in Texas with her new parents.

Betz is unsure how long he'll be able to stay in Haiti, but he'll take advantage of every precious moment with his little girl.

That made the first-night scene of Betz and the little girl, curled up on their mattresses placed side-by-side on the Laurent home floor, all the more tender.