By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on March 28, 2010 1:50 AM
Goldsboro resident and U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Teresa Wolf, right, plays with children in a Haitian orphanage.
News-Argus/BOBBY WILLIAMS Teresa Wolf holds her 4-month-old daughter, ChloÃ©, and talks about her 32-day stint in Haiti just after a major earthquake devastated the country.
Dawins Damichia, one of the countless children orphaned by the earthquake, will be forever connected to ChloÃ© Wolf, a little girl his age living in Goldsboro whose mother donated her breastmilk to the boy while deployed to his country as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Chloé Wolf smiles every time her mother says her name.
She has no idea Teresa is talking about a recent deployment to Haiti and an orphan more than 1,000 miles away.
It will be years before the 4-month-old understands the significance of that connection -- or how she factors into the story.
She has no way of knowing that, through her mother, she gave a gift to a little boy in Haiti -- one that left her forever connected to Dawins Damichia, one of the countless orphans left in the wake of the major earthquake Teresa said "devastated" his country Jan. 12.
Teresa never expected to be called to duty so soon after becoming a member of Coast Guard Port Security Unit 307.
She imagined a life similar to the one she had led before April 15, 2009, as a member of the Air Force Reserve.
The notion of a deployment loomed, but orders wouldn't come for years, she thought.
And had it not been for an unforeseen act of nature, they might not have.
"We typically go to places like (Guantanamo Bay) and Kuwait and we protect U.S. assets. We provide security for the floating U.S. assets -- the naval ships ... so that things like the USS Cole won't happen again. We have a full package that we take with us -- trucks, boats, everything you would need," she said. "But every so often, one of the Port Security units becomes what they call 'The Go Team.' It is our turn right now. ... We are 'The Go Team' for contingencies like (what happened in Haiti) -- like (Hurricane) Katrina."
So just after the first responders began flooding into the country, Teresa got the call that she would soon be among them.
But Chloé was only 9 weeks old -- still nursing and unable to understand her mother's commitment to the military.
"It was extremely challenging. I knew it was the right thing to do, but I wavered. I wanted to say I had a hardship and couldn't go," Teresa said. "But I knew that I had a commitment not only to my daughter and my children, I have a commitment to the Coast Guard. I couldn't send (my unit) down there without me."
She came to terms with the fact that the separation was going to be a struggle for both herself and her newborn.
But what she didn't know was that arriving in Haiti would be a hardship in itself.
"It's almost indescribable. I would have thought the buildings would have fallen over but they just went flat. There was rubble in the ground. The people had shanty houses they had made out of cardboard boxes," Teresa said. "They were taking sticks and putting them in the ground and taping and tying these cardboard boxes. ... You or I would never live in a situation like that.
"It was sad -- like when the children would come up and they would surround you, but it wasn't to hurt you, it was to beg." she added. "It looked like a bomb had gone off without the remnants of a bomb -- just complete destruction."
Teresa still chokes up when, with eyes momentarily closed, she thinks about those she encountered during her 32-day stint in country -- the men, women and children left there to all but start over.
Perhaps those emotions, she said, are still coming through now that she is back home in Goldsboro because while she was in Haiti, her focus on the mission at hand outweighed them.
"I was the only medical support for all the U.S. military in the port," she said. "I was it -- myself and four Corpsman."
So from a makeshift tent, she treated everything from scrapes to heat casualties.
And although she was only tasked to serve those service members who needed her, she also treated many Haitians.
She remembers a trip to an orphanage she characterized as unforgettable.
"There were several children there who had lost their parents in the earthquake. They just wanted to play and hug," Teresa said. "That orphanage meant more to me than I will ever be able to describe to you."
But the experience that truly defined her deployment was much more than a simple visit.
What changed her in Haiti was passing Chloé's gift along to that little boy.
Up until she left for Haiti, Teresa was nursing Chloé -- something she hoped to resume when her tour of duty was complete.
So for her first few days away from her daughter, she was "just dumping out" the milk she pumped daily, milk that would have, under normal circumstances, gone to that little girl.
"But that's liquid gold, as any nursing mother knows," Teresa said. "So one day, I happened to be on the USNS Comfort, (a hospital-like vessel anchored just off Port-au-Prince), and I asked one of the Corpsman on board if they were looking for donations."
As fate had it, Dawins was one of the patients on that ship.
"They found him on a pile of rubble, this sweet little boy," Teresa said. "His parents had died in the earthquake."
And his health was waning.
So when Teresa passed the blood tests required to make such a donation, Chloé's gift was warmly received.
"The motherly instinct, it very much kicked in. All I could think was that Chloé would be happy," Teresa said. "She would be proud knowing that her milk was going to such a good cause."
Teresa can still sense what it was like to hold Dawins in her arms -- to watch, over a period of a few weeks, that little boy gain weight and strength.
And she relives the pain she felt when it was time to return to her own children.
"I bawled like I did when I left Chloé," she said. "Leaving that little boy, leaving those people, it broke my heart."
But when she looks back on her first deployment as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard, Teresa vows also to remember all the good that came out of her trip to Haiti.
Just as she vows that Chloé will one day know just what gift she gave, through her mother, to a little boy some 1,000 miles away.
"One day, when she's older, I will definitely take Chloé and show her where I was," Teresa said. "And I will tell her, 'As Americans, we take things for granted,' so that hopefully, my children, they will appreciate what they have."