Local Haitian Aid Workers Return with 102 Orphans

January 25, 2010, By Margaret Harding, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW

Jim Bouchard went to Haiti with a plane full of medical supplies and returned this morning with his plane loaded with orphans — 102 of them.

Bouchard, of Sewickley, helped organize what might have been the largest non-military shipment of narcotics to Haiti since an earthquake devastated its capital of Port-au-Prince two weeks ago. The plane, which left yesterday, carried about 35,000 pounds of medical supplies — enough pain medication for 5,000 operations and antibiotics for 300,000 people, said Aaron Billger, spokesman for Highmark, which also helped organize the trip.

But when Bouchard and others were set to return home, they saw a van filled with orphans at the U.S. Embassy waiting for a way out of Haiti. So the group loaded them on their chartered plane and delivered them to families in Orlando early this morning, Bouchard said.

“It was kind of emotional to see all the parents standing there on the tarmac waiting for them,” said Bouchard, founder and chairman of Chicago-based Esmark Inc., who organized the trip with several Pittsburgh-area hospital systems, insurer Highmark Inc. and other local organizations. “It was a happy day for everyone. Each one of the parents had been waiting three years for each child. It was the first time in three years they were reunited.”

The orphans had their proper paperwork to leave, Bouchard said. They were just waiting for a way out.

About 200 people were involved in the trip, including 79 adults who made the trip to Haiti, Bouchard said. Many were his neighbors in Sewickley, including Ted Ruscitti, who showed up yesterday to help load the plane and ended up going to Haiti. When adoptive parents of two children didn’t make it to Orlando from Miami by the time the plane was supposed to depart for Pittsburgh, Ruscitti volunteered to stay until they arrived, Bouchard said.

“He had three kids on his seat next to him, and then he stayed with the kids,” Bouchard said. “I’m proud of everybody from the initial mission and what we were able to accomplish on the way back.”

The medical supplies they took down were dispersed to four hospitals, Billger said.

In addition to the orphans, 10 adults who worked with the orphans also made the return flight, Bouchard said. Many of the children were 1 and 2 year olds, he said.

“Everybody worked great with the kids,” Bouchard said. “They were so good, so well-behaved. They just had beautiful smiles.”