Haiti quake sends father on blessing-filled odyssey for daughter

By Sammy Linebaugh

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Jan. 24 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Hollie Wardle, right, and son Kaden, 11, are thrilled to see the Wardles' adopted daughter Gabrielle arrive from Haiti with Hollie's husband.

Jason Olson, Deseret News

NORTH SALT LAKE — Jeremy Wardle kissed his wife, Hollie, goodbye at the Salt Lake airport and boarded a red-eye bound for the Dominican Republic.

That was eight days ago.

"I didn't know how it was going to work out. I just had the most overwhelming feeling that I was supposed to go and that I would be taken care of. I told Hollie, 'I have to go get her,' " Jeremy said.

What has happened since reads like a movie script.

The North Salt Lake couple had received word that Gabrielle — the daughter they have spent more than two years working to adopt — survived the earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince Jan. 12. Her orphanage, Crèche Enfant Jesus, located several miles outside Haiti's capital city in Lamardelle, had escaped damage. Food and water, however, were scarce for the 80 children and infants in the orphanage's care.

"They were desperate," Hollie said. "Here are all these babies and they were running out of milk, everything."

Hollie had been working the phones since news of the earthquake. She had managed contact with Gina Duncan, who runs Crèche Enfant Jesus and was able to give her real-time updates of what was happening.

"She said, 'There is just death everywhere,' " Hollie said.

Duncan pleaded for help with getting baby formula and other supplies. Some infants were growing weaker by the hour.

"We definitely knew it was a race against time."

'We're going to help'

Jeremy arrived in Santo Domingo with only a few items: a small backpack, GPS coordinates of the orphanage downloaded from Google Earth and contact information of people who might be able to help.

His tentative plan was to arrange for a helicopter to fly him into Haiti, land in the open space next to the orphanage, drop off supplies and pick up 7-year-old Gabrielle.

Christina Baber — a Dominican woman who read about the Wardles on the Deseret News' Web site two days after the earthquake and contacted them with offers to help — arranged for Jeremy to get a ride to a rendezvous point with a search-and-rescue team from Utah.

"First thing I see when we pull up are guys in these bright orange shirts that say Washington County Search and Rescue … I told them who I was, I said 'I'm here to get my daughter.' I told them about all the babies at the Crèche," Jeremy said.

"They looked me in the eye and said 'We're going to help you get your daughter out. We're going to help your orphanage.' "

That was the first time Jeremy Wardle cried.

"I had been so alone, and now I had 12 men and an ER nurse who made this their mission."

Jeremy took the last empty seat in a supply caravan headed for the border town of Jimini, four hours from Santo Domingo — four hours closer to Gabrielle.

In Jimini, Jeremy Wardle met Jeremy Johnson and a team of pilots with Utah Haiti Relief (www.utahhaitirelief.org).

"Here are these guys flying food and water in to all these orphanages out in the perimeters of the city where there was no way aid was going to get through at all. They basically had created their own staging area on a baseball field in Jimini and were taking food and water in."

Jeremy explained his plight, and a plan was set to load a helicopter with supplies and head for Crèche Enfant Jesus the following morning.

He texted word to Hollie.

"Gina had told Hollie there was a premature baby who was really bad off. We knew we had to hurry."

With nightfall, all they could do was wait.

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