Our hearts will never be the same again. I say that not as a convenient phrase to make some melodramatic point, but rather to reveal a truth. I do not know when I have been so touched in such a short amount of time by the telling of a child’s brief story. The first in my memory would have been of Moses in the bulrushes and how his mother weaved a sturdy reed basket to float him in nearby waters to save his life. The second would have been when I read the book by Dale Evans Rogers (Roy’s wife) when she wrote the story of their only child Robin who died of Down’s Syndrome. It was called Angel’s Unaware.
Tuni’s story was much like Robin’s but with a sad and poignant twist.
Tuni did not come into the world as one born to two loving parents of wealth and stature. Rather Tuni was born into poverty in India and coupled with her fate of being a girl were her health challenges; Down’s Syndrome and congenital heart complications. Found under some underbrush, in bushes, she was turned over to health officials who could not find anyone to take her. That is until they remembered that “fanatical, red-haired woman from America who had a home for girls with disabilities in Calcutta”.
Their last resort was to contact her, Dr. Michelle Harrison at her Children’s Preserve called Shishur Sevay. Here is her description of the visit and what followed: They came to visit to ask if we would take her. She has Down’s Syndrome and congenital heart malformation. She came to Shishur Sevay just three weeks ago. On Tuesday, 14th August, she will have surgery at Medica Superspecialty Hospital with a leading surgical team. This little baby has made an amazing journey from under the bushes hours away from Kolkata, to us — Shishur Sevay – and to the surgery she needs to survive. Whatever can be done, will be done. I’m relieved they will operate, as living with a baby who turns blue is not an easy experience for anyone. As the doctor said to me, “It can be lethal.” Tuni has some sort of “wisdom” and awareness….. an amazing little baby who shares her life with us. For the day of surgery all the girls will go, a big crowd of family as is the Indian custom, and we will wait, and ponder, and pray for her survival.
It was upon receiving Tuni that Michelle began sharing the story of the desperately ill child she wanted to save. One of the first challenges was to get her oxygen in the home when she began to have “blue” spells due to the severity of her heart problems. Arranging immediate medical assessments at some of India’s finest medical facilities, Michelle was not surprised by the diagnosis, nor the news that children like Tuni were usually not surgical candidates until they were nearer one year old.
The bonding began immediately between Michelle and Tuni, and Michelle’s expertise as a medical doctor of distinction in the United States before “retiring” in India to begin the combined home and school for the girls, was of great help. It was evident that Tuni was “thriving” despite the severity of her illness.
Here Tuni (left) is enjoying “lap time” with Michelle and Archi.
Getting lab work and tests done with one of the “family”.
The settling in time was brief and the assessments that had been made were short lived. Tuni’s condition worsened and time became the enemy. The surgery to correct her heart condition had to happen right away. Confident of the fine care and skill available to her, Michelle and “representative family” took Tuni to the hospital for her procedure. As Michelle would say, “We are civilized here in India, and family must accompany and stay with the patient.
Here, Michelle and Tuni share the bed the night before surgery.
Michelle was allowed to “gear up” and be in the surgery suite to “support” Tuni, even being able to lay her hands on Tuni’s head during the procedure.
The surgery on such a fragile baby was a two day roller coaster ride with highs and lows, and despite valiant, competent and loving action by her surgical team, Tuni lost her battle to remain at Shishur Sevay with Michelle and the girls.
Michelle notified us on Facebook; those faithful, loving supporters all over the world who had grown to love this little girl from the bushes. She wrote:
“We will be bringing her home. This is the custom and we will dress her and cover her with flowers. We are looking at Hindu burial grounds as is custom and will bury her today. But we will pray for her spirit in all religions. Personally I just want to turn back the clock and have her back with us giggling and babbling.”
So it was accomplished that Tuni was buried by loving and tender spirits whose lives had been touched by her. She was believed to be 7 months old and in that short time she had touched the lives of those who found her in the bushes keeping her in a hospital for three months trying to place her. She touched even more lives as she joined the others at Shishur Sevay and was “immortalized” via that amazing thing called Facebook where a legion of followers joined in prayerful support for her and those who cared for her. The prayers were from many countries, faiths and were heartfelt and in unison with one accord; Tuni….actually, now it was Tuni Harrison.
So the “Throwaway” became a “Stowaway” in the hearts of people across the world, and so she shall remain. Her life is a reminder that the spirit of love, hope, and genuine caring transcend all belief systems, personal interests, politics, and naysayers. Her life, brief as the flicker of a candle in time, lit the darkness for just long enough to make a difference. As men, women, young and old sat with tear stained faces at the news of her passing, a beautiful thing happened. A lesson of love and compassion was re-learned and reminded us that in the cold, hard, war-torn world, the plight of an innocent can still bring us back to our knees and cause us to re-evaluate what is right, what is good, and what is needed to bring peace.
Out of the mouths, and perhaps lives of babes, still come the answers for our world.