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Create a legacy by being the solution.

I’m not being naïve. I believe that every problem is just a solution waiting to happen. At the heart of it, this is what our team is doing in Haiti, in Bangladesh, in Nicaragua, in the places we will go next. We all believe that change is real and it can happen because we will make it happen, one surgery at a time if we have to.

But believe it or not I get challenged often about Team Broken Earth. About what we are doing. Specifically around our ability to make a difference. It’s often phrased as how can you possibly make a difference? The problem is too big. From others it’s often asking how can we make a sustainable difference, being too small to create and maintain capacity?

Honestly this sometimes feels like a kick in the guts. I do welcome all criticism. We need it. All organizations do. It’s a reality check and it’s a means of making us all better. But every now and then, well, it just stings.

As I am sitting in the back of a room of 2/3’s of the orthopaedic surgery residents of Haiti, one week after the Rock Op for Haiti in Newfoundland, a smile comes to my face. Across Canada we have created something really special. We have done more than create sustainability, we have created a legacy that will live long after many Team Broken Earth members have moved on.

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Yesterday, we toured the hospital we’ve been working in for years now. We walked through the OR we helped finish. We saw the new hospital ward full of patients and volunteer quarters we built (referred to by locals as the Canada tower or Broken Earth tower). The millions of dollars worth of equipment we have secured is on display and the staff are there to greet us with an embrace usually reserved for family members. The building and the relationships we have built are all part of the Team Broken Earth legacy. The team even saw a few patients yesterday, and looked at X-rays of the first bilateral total hip replacements done in Haiti with surgeons from Canada and Haiti working side by side.

Today, we are teaching residents from across the country in a series of lectures and in skills simulation labs for residents to practice. This is the third time we have hosted this course. And to watch the senior residents (who were junior before) teach the new junior residents, well, it just fills me with pride. It’s these young surgeons, full of energy and enthusiasm, who will change orthopaedic care in Haiti. And we are teaching them, year after year.

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So when I think about the criticisms, I have to say thank you.

Thank you for inspiring reflection and making sure that we are moving in the right direction. When people talk about making a difference for patients, I think about how many children Dr. Rideout has literally given the ability to smile to, or the patient with two new hips who would otherwise not have access to care. We, all of us on and supporting Team Broken Earth, made a difference for those patients. Capacity and sustainability? We got that. We’re establishing infrastructure, relationships and education. We are creating a legacy. A Canadian legacy here and abroad. I feel better about that. And to the critics I will say this: believe in solutions. The mountain is high but it can be climbed. The finish line is far but it will be crossed. Yes, always address the problem. But be the solution.

Best,

Andrew

PS. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who came, supported, donated, organized, cooked, sang, and danced with us at the Rock Op over a week ago. Truly amazing night. As always, we will honour your generosity by continuing helping those who need it most.

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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The women who cut the path we walk.

Before the term ever became prominent in today’s culture, I am and have been a feminist. It’s not a stance I’m taking. It’s not political. It’s quite simply just how I was raised. It’s been engrained in my family’s history. It’s who I am, what I have done, what I am doing, and I owe it to the influence of strong women.

Growing up, I’m not sure I would have fully recognized their influence. But today, especially being International Women’s Day, it’s important that we celebrate how women have shaped who we are. More importantly, it helps us realize how far we have to go to create equality and gender parity.

In the 1950’s, my grandmother was a homemaker, a loving, caring mother of eight children in a rural catholic community in Newfoundland and Labrador. Facing a troubling situation at home, she somehow found the guts, the very deep courage and strength to make a change. She took all of her eight children, one just a baby, and left her community in search of a better, safer place to raise her family. Under a cloak of secrecy, and with only an inner courage, little money, or even time to pack, she made a long trek to St. John’s with eight young children by her side.

Arriving with five boys and three girls, nowhere to live, and nowhere to stay, the boys found a home in Mount Cashel, and the girls in Belvedere Orphanage. With hope in her heart and desire to keep the family united, she maintained the family unit, against insurmountable odds, finding a job at Mount Cashel as a cook, being able then to afford to visit her daughters while keeping an eye on her sons. I often wonder about those initial 1950’s Newfoundland days, the decision she was faced with, the unknown, the panic, the fear, but above all, the strength. The hardships she knew she was accepting. The unknown journey she was embarking on. All in a heroic effort to save her family. I can’t think of a better role model.

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My grandmother passed away at 88 years of age surrounded by her children and family. Her dying words: “I am just not ready to leave you all yet.” She never has.

My family has been defined by the influence of strong women. My aunt was a catholic nun, Sister Rosalita. She was the oldest of the Furey clan who made the trek in the dark of night to St. John’s. She was that second layer of glue that held the family together. Being a Catholic nun in the 1960’s through to the 90’s could not have been an easy time, especially for Rose, a trendsetter, an agent of change and a maverick. She was not only spiritually sound in her beliefs, but was philosophically and academically a powerhouse way ahead of her time.

From driving motorcycles, to setting up an Apple computer lab for a high school in the 80’s, she broke the mold. She devoted her life to caring for the poor, travelling to underserviced areas for education and spiritual guidance, she was a beacon of change.  She was tough, and often feared by students, but with a heart bigger than life and an ability to push people to greater heights.

Before Rose died, she was completing her PhD in math. I remember being in grade 4, sitting around the kitchen table while Rose taught me the Pythagorean theory, not letting me leave until I understood the sum of squares, and the purity of math.

She cut her own path in life often taking us along for the ride to see the first generation Mac computer, some new camera lens she had found, a new type of garden, or even taking my dirt bike for a long ride. I adored her. I aspired to be like her and miss her dearly. She was a woman ahead of her time.

Of course my life has been influenced by women beyond my family. I first met Zahida, a kind, soft spoken woman from Dhaka, Bangladesh. I had the pleasure of watching her in a classroom setting, and amongst leaders from around the world, her star out glowed the rest. I went to visit Zahida first in 2015. It became clear immediately that her kindness was only surpassed by her devotion to help. The respect and dedication as the CEO of a large charity caring for homeless children, people who could not afford health care, and teaching women about social programs and how to create small businesses was both aspirational and inspirational. I walked behind her in awe, taking notes, in pure admiration. I try to carry Zahida in everything I do.

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The theme for International Women’s Day 2017 is #BeBoldForChange, and encourages everyone to focus on creating a more inclusive, gender-equal working world and getting to an equal 50-50 at work by 2030.

In order to feel safe and equal at work, women must first feel safe and equal at home.

The statistics on intimate partner abuse are staggering. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 3 women will experience some form of physical or sexual violence at the hands of their partner, and 38% of murders of women are committed by male intimate partners.

In order to achieve the goal of 50-50 at work, we cannot forget the women who cannot, or will not make it out of the home for work because of domestic violence. This is not just a Canadian problem, or a North American problem, this is a global problem. As I have travelled, I have witnessed it first hand in many countries. It’s a global issue and requires global solutions. Days like today help us remember.

50-50. It sounds like the kind of goal that should already exist. But here it is an ambitious global goal for even 2030. While fixing the problem in North America would be a massive accomplishment, it does not help the 16 year-old sex worker in Dhaka with a scar of the profession permanently tattooed on her face. Providing women around the world with more mentors of change, like Zahida, is a start. As I watched Zahida gracefully stroll the crowded streets of Dhaka, I could not help but see the smile of my grandmother, and the passion of my aunt.

On days like today we need to celebrate the women in leadership roles. They will help us all rectify the inequalities that exist throughout the work place. As men, we need the courage it takes to support this, to openly advocate for it. Only 4.8% of Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs.  Nothing justifies this massive inequality. We need to do better, not just today, everyday. We need to strike a balance.

The courage, strength and leadership of these women are only a few examples of how I have been lucky to be surrounded by powerful women. My wife, Allison, is an Emergency Room doctor, a veteran of Broken Earth missions and a caring, attentive mother. I have two sisters I admire and look up to, and of course my own mother who I love dearly. I also have two daughters. For them most of all, I want to see change. To see the 50-50 realized. To have a world of opportunity open to them based on who they are, not to what gender they belong.

To all the influential, dedicated, never-quitting, always-inspiring women out there, I stand with you today on International Women’s Day.

– Andrew

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Look a little closer: keeping positive in the age of doubt.

It all kinda makes you want to stop looking at the news. The turmoil is undeniable. Recent world events have left some feeling down, disillusioned and even depressed. We appear to be on a path of applying a negative lens, and I fear it is becoming all-consuming. But look a little closer. Are we actually in tough times?

There is no question that 2016 and the beginning of 2017 have had some disheartening and questionable behaviors of not just a few, but many.  There is no doubt that these actions are a gigantic Trump-sized anchor weighing on our collective conscious and subconscious mind.

But there’s the trick, and the psychological fallacy we must overcome.

Just because there have been two or three or even 10 or 20 negative events, we cannot let our lens be anchored here. It is our duty and responsibility to be skeptical and at times fearful, but we cannot lose site of the overwhelming positivity around the world.

Hope and courage outweigh it all on a local, national and global stage every single day. It is easy to be sucked into the often-gigantic shadows of negativity, but we need to resist that move, and instead celebrate more frequently, more loudly, and with more enthusiasm the positive messages of hope.

Yes, 2016 was hard. But we must look at what goes into making the glass half full. In my profession, good news is there if you look for it. According to the UN child mortality rates are down everywhere around the world. The rate of deaths from malaria is down by 60%.  We’ve made great strides to eradicate Ebola. World hunger has reached some of its lowest levels in 25 years. The Paris agreement, albeit in current flux, has made the world take notice, recognize and act on climate change.

In St. John’s, Team Broken Earth launched our first refugee clinic drawing on local resources and talent to help care for new Canadians. Nationally, we grew to include 7 provinces, representing hundreds of Canadians united in making a difference in healthcare, and health education to those living in countries in desperate need. New teams from Quebec, Saskatoon and Barrie, Ontario joined the effort.

But by far the most impressive national team effort was lead by Dr. Barter to respond to Hurricane Matthew, drawing on volunteers from across Canada to unite and care for thousands of patients in the immediate aftermath of the natural disaster.

Internationally, we expanded to ensure there was more education with trauma, orthopedic, anesthesia and critical care courses in Haiti, even with our first volunteer from Australia. We also provided a trauma course in Bangladesh.  A team has even approached us from Massachusetts to carry the Broken Earth flag. We also expanded to begin to send teams to Guatemala and Nicaragua. Yes, look closer and see yourself in every part of these little wins, these reasons to smile.

Do we live in troubling times? Yes. But fear can be a motivator. We need to have the courage to resist the temptation of negativity, resist this anchor to our course, and reset our direction based on the good that is happening in the world.

The bright side so often eludes us. The tough stand on immigration in the States is all over the news but in Canada it was met with a continued commitment to embracing immigrants and refugees as the responsible, ethical, most Canadian thing we can do. Even more recently (and tragic) is the inexplicable murder of 6 people in Quebec, gunned down while they prayed at their Mosque. It’s such a dark and sorrowful moment that has been greeted with an outpouring of love and support across Canada and around the world.

Yes. Look closer and see it.

See where we can shift the dynamic from what is happening to us to how we react to it. Trust me, bridging that gap will make all the difference.

Best,

Andrew

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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When just a little is enough sometimes.

It has been a while since I have written a blog. To be honest, I had lost my appetite for it. It’s tough to admit but my motivation was and has been so challenged as of late.

Haiti. I despair that it’ll never catch a break. The lack of political stability there, although not making headlines anywhere, is so troubling. This is not a political blog. Won’t ever be. I believe Broken Earth is independent of political parties and elections, but we operate in an environment that is up to its neck in it. The patients we serve, as if they don’t have it hard enough, are drowning in it.

The sad truth for us is that we only move in this environment. We visit it a week at a time. I know this is a selfish view. Why? Because Haitians have to live with this every day. Haiti has not had a recognized election result this year.  Because of this, the country has been in a state of flux and without a democratically elected government for eight months now. Where’s the outrage? Can you imagine if Canada, the US, or other democratic governments in the international community were allowed to continue to control taxes, health care, and law and order this way? Somebody would say something for sure. But not here.

Of course this affects us very little at home. Other than the disruption of having to rearrange trips and move equipment, it is merely an inconvenience. But do we have a greater responsibility?  Are we not supposed to be advocates for our patients, for those in need? I had hoped the elections would come and go as they are supposed to and that the results would be sanctioned and that there would be no CNN headline, and no incident to warrant a report.

I was equally gutted with the deliberate, horrific attacks in Bangladesh and Istanbul. Broken Earth had recently stayed for a full week only a kilometer from where the Dhaka terror attack had happened. Dhaka is an immense city, a mega city, and despite its size and the mass of humanity, I had never felt unsafe. Crowded, yes, suffocated, yes, but never unsafe. The people of Dhaka, despite the hand they have been dealt, have gigantic hearts, and are some of the kindest people I have ever met.

The attack in Dhaka struck me hard. The attack on an airport in Turkey also caused me to pause and reflect on the madness that exists, the evil that is lurking. En route to Dhaka, we spend full days in that very international Turkish terminal, waiting for a connecting flight. The images on the TV were geographically familiar. Frightening and troubling but again seen through a selfish lens as I write this in the comfort of my home.

All of these near misses made me reflect and pause for thought.

I thought about stopping. I thought about quitting.

I thought about forgetting about it all and going back to just practicing orthopedic surgery in the comfort of St. John’s. But I can’t. Too many images in my head that together pick me up and carry me forward. The faces of the patient in the corridor in Haiti. The eyes of the young boy smiling in the streets of Dhaka.

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I won’t let this attitude defeat me. I can’t.

I think each of us carries a candle inside. Sometimes it flickers, grows weak. We all have to tend that light. It’s what keeps us going. If we’re lucky, it’ll burn bright enough for others. And they can see a little bit of hope. Just a little is enough sometimes.

Again and again I come back to the team for inspiration. Broken Earth is planning a full slate of missions for the fall in Haiti. We have had to postpone two and reroute one.  The one team I am a part of will be heading to Nicaragua instead of Port au Prince and hopefully light the flame of hope there as well.

We are also expanding our reach to Guatemala. I will be travelling there in September to hopefully set up a clinic, help lay the foundation to build a clinic, and establish the potential for future non-medical education to the impoverished people outside of Guatemala City.

In addition we are concentrating our efforts at home as well. We created what I hope is our first of many clinics to help new Canadians, starting with a free vision and hearing clinic. This will help our organization, our community and our country grow healthier and stronger together.

So although I have felt the squeeze of our troubled times, and though it may have exhausted my will, the exhaustion was short lived. Got a lot good people around me. A chorus of positive energy as a soft as a whisper but it’s all I need sometimes.

Best,

Andrew

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Small candles that burn in the darkest places.

It’s hard to fathom. I mean I’ve been to cities around the world but this is something immensely different. Dhaka is a city of 16-20 million people. It’s a mass of humanity that breathes and lives like one gigantic organism. There are areas with a density of 100,000 people per square kilometer. It continues to grow at an alarming rate of 4% per year with estimates of 25 million by 2025. It is considered to be the rickshaw capital of the world with approximately 400,000 rickshaws on the street every day. The city’s per capita income is about $3,100 per year, the lowest of the mega cities in the world.

Yet amongst the poverty and the density is a bright light. A candle of hope. Here, a modern day Mother Theresa exists… our hostess, Zahida.

They say one of the possible origins of the name Dhaka is from the hidden goddess Dhakeshwari. Well we may have found that hidden goddess in Zahida, the leader of our partner in Bangladesh, the SAJIDA Foundation. She welcomed us with open arms and beams with pride when she greets us at the airport and takes us for the tours of their operations.

We start with a visit with the low-income families SAJIDA provides business loans for. There are 10 families living in an area the size of two Tim Horton coffee shops.  A dozen or more woman are gathered in a small hut waiting for the finances and showing us products that they have made with funding from the business loan. It’s an impressive site. These are empowered women in a developing country.

We move then to the hospital and are greeted by familiar faces with big smiles. On the wall of the hospital is a big poster of Team Broken Earth and the SAJIDA Foundation working together during our last visit.

For a moment, it feels good to see how far we have come. But that lasts just a moment…

We move through the dense streets packed with cars, rickshaws and humanity piled on to each other. There is some order in this chaos. The traffic is so intense that it’s impossible to tell when you are moving and what direction you are inching in. Six lanes deep at times with not enough space to fit a playing card between the next vehicles. The temperature is north of 45 degrees with the humidity but we’re lucky to have some AC.

The final trip of the day is the most emotional. We went to visit the “pavement dwellers.” At best guess, there are over 40,000 of these unidentified, homeless, forgotten people. Many are children.  I have been to see them before, but this time is no easier. There is a lump in my throat that gets more intense as we walk into the building. On the first floor there are 20 or so adolescent males from 10-13 years old who are being taught basic life skills.  They wave and smile.  They are all orphans, and live on the streets with no government ID, no recognition that they even exist. In fact, if it wasn’t for our hosts, no one may know they exist at all.  They have no one and nothing to call their own, yet they smile and wave.  They will leave this building in an hour or so and go to the streets the same way any of our kids would head home after to school. These terrible streets are their homes. There’s a chill that comes with that realization.

We go upstairs to the next floor and there are dozens of 5-6 year olds who are all in one room, waiting for us. They have smiles as big as my 5-year-old son’s. They are there because they have been beaten, neglected, or abused. Some have single mothers who are working outside and will be back for them. Some of the young ones are able to stay over night. Others will have to leave and find a dry corner of pavement to lay their heads – if they’re lucky. Lucky. There’s that word again. There’s nothing lucky about this.

Five year olds. Orphaned. Abandoned and living on the street. Words cannot do justice to the feeling it creates deep inside of you. A combination of guilt, nervousness, anger, and grief. It’s just not right. We live in the shadow of such gigantic divides. We have to do better. I believe that we are all part of something bigger; we are all in this together. When a five year old lays her head on the pavement in Bangladesh at night, we should all feel it. When an adolescent boy cries for help and no one responds in the streets of Dhaka, we should hear it. Isn’t that what it means to be part of a global community?

The five year olds snap me out of it with a song. Five year olds are five year olds no matter where they are. Big smiles, and dancing carefree. It brings a smile to all of our faces. Despite the poverty, despite the fact that some will have to leave the building tonight and come back tomorrow they smile. There is something familiar about their smiles, their eyes. It’s more than childhood innocence. It’s hope. And in hope, they’re richer than any of us.

It has been six years since I first traveled to Haiti. Six years since a little girl’s smile changed my life. You may have heard me talk about her before. She was a girl of about twelve who lost her parents in the earthquake and was now the caregiver for her injured grandfather. She provided him with the care he needed. She walked him to the OR and waited patiently in the waiting areas while we fixed his hip. Then she shook my hand with a smile. She carried herself as someone way beyond her young years. It was that smile and the hope in her eyes that compelled me to act. You could see it in her eyes, hope. Hope that there would be better days. Hope that the world could and will be a better place. She would be a young woman now. I’m not sure much has changed, maybe it hasn’t. But more than anything, I want to believe she still has the courage to have that smile and, most importantly, that hope.

Yesterday was the first time in a while since I have seen those eyes and that hope in someone else. Despite the adversity, the poverty, the abuse, the chaos, a smile and eyes filled with hope. It’s a testament to people like Zahida, determined to make a difference. To keep that candle of hope burning. We can see it from here. It’s like a lantern. It guides us. It’s carried in the hearts of everyone on Team Broken Earth as we move inch-by-inch closer to the change we all hope is possible in this world.

Best,

Andrew

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Bangladesh, Day 3

Thanks to all who sent well wishes and thoughts on yesterday’s post. It really does mean a lot to me and re-energizes me in so many ways.

Today was better.

We visited Dhaka which has approximately 15 million people so it was a dense day, dense in every sense of the word.

We travelled throughout Dhaka to the older part of the city to visit a SAJIDA hospital. It was without a doubt one of the more interesting drives I have taken. There were more rickshaws and other forms of transportation than I could have dreamed existed.  On the way home, it took us 2-3 hours to travel a short distance through what I can only describe as an ocean of people, not waves, or groups, but constant people side by side, rickshaw by rickshaw for kilometres.

When we got to the hospital, we had several presentations and discussed with how Broken Earth and SAJIDA could collaborate.   They have the equipment and skills, but need more education and support. I think that is where we could help. They average 3-4 C-sections per day, but need more training in infant resuscitation, a course we could teach them. Then they can pass on that knowledge.

Following that we ran a busy clinic with the help of local doctors and nurses.  It was incredibly rewarding to work along side such remarkable people, to work with, and learn from them.

From the clinic into the operating room, where Dr. Rideout helped change the fate of child who may otherwise have gone through life with just three fingers.

We met one patient yesterday who was born with no legs and only two fingers on one hand.  He lives in rural Bangladesh, and despite his perceived disability, he is a successful farmer (farming the land himself), husband and father.   He was so thankful to see us, he demanded to visit with us tonight to sing us a song of appreciation.

In many ways this place is different than Haiti, but the human spirit, hope and determination to help those in need is a universal tenet, it just gets clouded sometimes.

Speaking of Haiti, I was extremely saddened to hear of the loss in Haiti yesterday. 18 people killed, celebrating Carnival, our thoughts and prayers are with our Haitian families and friends.

Best,

Andrew

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Posted by on February 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Bangladesh, Day 2

It’s 3:30 in the AM and I can’t sleep.   I thought it was the time change, but I can’t stop thinking about the sites of today.

The city is intensely dense. At 20,000 people per square km, there isn’t a lot of room.  But the roads and infrastructure are good, and we feel safe.

We began the day by touring a facility for “pavement dwellers.”  These are people who literally lay on the street at night. No cover overhead, no blankets, no place to call home. In fact, they do not even exist in the eyes of the government (no name, no address, no citizenship).   I initially wondered why they were not referred to as the homeless until I saw the pictures.  People just putting their heads down directly on the pavement at the end of the day.  500,000 of them. 100,000 in Dhaka. One third of them are kids. Even typing this I can’t believe those numbers.

But there is hope. Our host has created an amazing institute to help some of these people, especially some of the kids.  We arrived to 100 singing kids wishing us well. They sang and danced and did a presentation. They were interactive, alive, engaged, like they had new life because of the help that was being provided for them.   Still, this institute only looks after around 11,000… there is still so much to do.

What I saw in the afternoon was what has been keeping me up. We visited a combination clinic and school.  The school was amazing and there were more pavement children there to get protection and education. But when we did clinic, we saw patient after patient who were young women in the sex trade, all of whom were asking to have the scars on their face revised, all had been cut in the same fashion on both cheeks. I had to bite down on my own outrage. Horrific, gut wrenching, sickening, sad, anger… I felt so many things at once that I can barely think of the words to describe it.

One girl was 12.

She had scars on both cheeks, and one across her neck.  12 years old… 4 years older than my Maggie.  She should be in grade 7. Instead, she is begging for us to help take the symbols off her face. She sat there in silence as we explained there was nothing we could really do for her. She sat still for a while with blank eyes. As she got up, you could see she was at least 6 months pregnant.

I gotta be honest. I didn’t see this coming and my heart truly hurts tonight. Just want to shake the planet and yell what the hell is wrong with us?

Gonna go see if the gym is open. I can’t sleep and I need to work off some frustration.

– Andrew

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Posted by on February 18, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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