Greater Norwich community rallying to support Haitian woman and her family

Norwich — Local churches, residents and anonymous donors have rallied to support Joselaine Jean Pierre and her family in the effort to bring the Haitian mother home from The William W. Backus Hospital, where she has been battling a crippling septic infection for the past two years.

Fundraising efforts aimed at generating enough funds to pay for housing costs, medical care, transportation and family living expenses have raised well over $7,000 as of Monday, including a $2,500 donation by one individual, said Father Bob Washabaugh, a coordinator of assistance for the Jean Pierre family and member of an immigration advocacy group, the Emma Lazarus Society, that meets at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greeneville.

Jean Pierre was stricken suddenly with a septic infection that attacked her entire body on May 30, 2017. The next day, she fell into a coma and didn’t wake up for three months. Later, her lower legs and eight fingers had to be amputated after the infection led to gangrene. Her two children, daughter Dina, now 14, and son Kensley, now 5, were sent to live with their great-aunt in Florida.

Her husband, Dieufoit Jean Pierre, had been living in Haiti when she fell ill. He visited when she emerged from the coma in the summer of 2017 but returned to Haiti, where he is a teacher. He returned to Norwich in December on a tourist visa that expires in September. He and young Kensley now live in an apartment in Greeneville, where they hope Joselaine can join them at some point in the coming months.

Norwich Human Services hosts the fundraising effort for the family and has received $6,650 thus far, Human Services Director Lee Ann Gomes said. The Emma Lazarus Society set up a crowd-source fundraiser at www.Gofundme.com under the name “Helping the Jean Pierre Family.” The fund has raised $650 of the $20,000 goal thus far. Those funds, and the donations to St. Mary’s on behalf of the family — including the $2,500 gift — will be combined into the account controlled by Norwich Human Services, Washabaugh said, to keep all funds together.

On Sunday, three Norwich parishes, St. Mary’s, St. Joseph’s and Sts. Peter and Paul, will co-host a potluck supper fundraiser at St. Mary’s to benefit the family. The Shekinah Seventh Day Adventist Haitian Church in New London is joining the effort. The deeply religious Jean Pierres are Adventists.

Efforts to assist the family range beyond financial support. A plumber installed a new boiler at their apartment house after the old one failed within days after they moved in. The plumber brought furniture for the family, and Emma Lazarus Society members secured other furnishings and household items for the father and son.

Dieufoit Jean Pierre is working with U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney’s office to extend his visa stay to care for his wife, who has a visa and has an asylum application pending. Young Kensley Jean Pierre was born in the United States and is a U.S. citizen. Gomes was able to assist him in applying for government food and cash assistance that his parents are not eligible to receive.

Joselaine’s care at Backus, where she is learning to walk on prosthetic lower legs and is expected to be fitted with prosthetic fingers, is being borne entirely by the hospital through its uncompensated care fund. And while the entire fundraising effort is designed to bring Joselaine home with her family, Gomes said all care and support services must be in place for the foreseeable future before Joselaine can be discharged, including transportation to kidney dialysis treatment, since the sepsis damaged her kidneys.

Extending Dieufoit’s visa is key to that goal, Washabaugh said.

“The last thing we want is for her to be released from the hospital and then he has to leave,” Washabaugh said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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