Saving Fortulina

Fortulina's family is on a race against time to save her life, and restore her health.

Fortulina’s family is on a race against time to save her life, and restore her health.

Franklin Hippolyte is at the end of his rope. He has exhausted all options and is on borrowed time. But he still has something he wants to make abundantly clear.

“I have been reluctant to go to the media because I did not want people to say I am begging anybody. It’s my child but I wanted to do things right. The thing is that time is running out on her. I cannot pretend anymore because I am going to lose my daughter if I don’t do something quickly.”

Franklin sighs heavily, weariness etched on his face. The strain of the past four years is beginning to show. His voice is barely audible as he whispers, “I can barely look her in the eye because I am looking at myself as a failure. I cannot give her what she needs.”

The “she” in question is 16-year-old Fortulina Hippolyte. In September of 2009, the Sir Ira Simmons Secondary School student was participating in a sports meet at the Vigie Playing Field when she fell, suffering what appeared to be a routine sprain. Fortulina’s mother brought her to a Castries-based physician and armed with crutches, a bandaged foot, and medication, the teen returned to school. Within two months, Fortulina would take a turn for the worst when she experienced stroke-like trauma. Her doctor referred her to an internist and orthopedic specialist. The youngster received a diagnosis which would change her life.

Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis is commonly found in children and adolescents. It is a chronic disorder, which if left untreated, can lead to serious complications. Symptoms include lethargy, reduced appetite, and decreased physical activity. While the cause of the actual condition remains a mystery, the
disorder is autoimmune, meaning that the body’s immune system begins to attack and destroy tissues and cells, particularly in the joints. For those who delay treatment or physical therapy, joint deformities of the hands and fingers often develop.

Which is exactly what has befallen Fortulina. According to her father, she has been on a steady decline.

“Sometimes you find that she moves around the house or goes outside but most times she is confined to her bed. She can hardly go to the washroom. Her hands are deformed and her arms are all turned up. When she misses her medication, because not all times I can afford it, she swells. That means she has to be on the medication constantly. She has been on medication for over two years and she has not recovered,” he explained.

Because of her limited mobility and occasional difficulty in controlling her bodily functions, Fortulina has barely attended school in the past few years.

Said Franklin, “I try sending her to school now because the doctor advised me to send her but she cannot stay at school. She will go to school for two days but then swell up. Sometimes the principal will call me and say come and pick her up.”

The quest to restore his daughter’s health has been arduous. Since the incident occurred, Franklin has been exploring all avenues of possible assistance. He approached the Ministry of Health which agreed to contribute by way of allowing the Hippolytes to acquire the necessary medication from Victoria Hospital. Unfortunately, the drugs are only available at the neighbouring hospital in Tapion and are very expensive. Franklin then turned to the National Community Foundation who he says came through for him in a big way.

“The NCF has come to our rescue a couple of times. They were there and I appreciate it. In 2010, they were there strong. They helped her through the process at Tapion for almost a year and that helped me a lot. But they have to help other people.”

Left on his own and desperate, Franklin employed unconventional methods to help his daughter. Unable to get a medical loan from his banking institution, Franklin decided to get an extended loan on his mortgage under false pretence. He claimed it was to construct a wall. Instead he used the funds to transport Fortulina to Cuba for further treatment. The ruse was later revealed and he is now unable to secure another loan.

During his trip to Cuba, Franklin was informed that the youngster needs surgery and a rehabilitation program of three months to get her back on the road to recovery. The cost is daunting.

“For the surgery alone it is about $26, 000. For the treatment it’s about another $12, 000 or so. Plus airfare and accommodation might be another $10, 000. So we’re looking at about EC$46, 000.”

To further complicate matters doctors have advised that she needs disease-modifying drugs known as Biologics, which are not available on the island and are very costly.

Franklin, a Special Police Constable with the Castries City Council, has turned his efforts to fundraising. He has held a couple of Country and Western dances, which did not fare well. Solicitation from companies has not proven fruitful. But he is not giving up. The cause is too great, the burden too heavy.

“My concern is that, and when I went to Cuba they said that, it is already in her spine. And if nothing is done she might end up in a wheelchair. As I said sometimes she has good days where she moves around. I’m happy to see her move around but there are times she doesn’t do much,” he said sadly.

He is holding another fundraiser during the carnival season hoping to prove to the Ministry that he is putting in the effort with the possibility that they may match what he has raised.

Franklin admits that family relations have become strained. His wife, a hotel worker is frustrated and their older son has had to put education plans on hold to help finance his sister’s medical situation.

But they are still united in their wish to see their loved one fully mended. Sometimes that desire can be overwhelming.

“When I see my child walking on good days I feel so good. I say “Oh God healed her! Is it a miracle? Are you healing her? Is that the process that’s taking over?” And then after a week or two, bam! She’s back on the ground. Swelling up again,” he laments.

Franklin is optimistic that his daughter will be able to return to school after this ordeal is over and have a normal life. But first things, first.

“I need that money,” he stresses. “I don’t have that money.”

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