A Miracle in the Making: Katherine's Journey of Hope
By Sixcia Devine
It was a June morning like any other in the small village of Moncion, Dominican Republic. I was preparing and gearing up for our Take A Trip Change A Life program with Caritas Smile, my son, my sister, and I would prepare for a larger group of volunteers scheduled to arrive the next day. Today we were headed to distribute much-needed medical supplies to the less fortunate and tie up last minute details. The sun was just beginning to set as we hit the road for our afternoon excursion.
But little did I know that this mission trip would be different - a pivotal moment in my life.
As we were en route to our destination, my cell phone rang. It was my mother, and her voice was laced with urgency. Two sisters, Siomara, and Divina, had found us in the village of Cacique, Moncion. They had a story to tell, a story that would change the course of our volunteer mission.
You see, Siomara was Katherine's mother, and Divina was her aunt. They had heard about the random acts of kindness we had performed in the past, and they believed we held the key to a lifeline. But they were quick to clarify that they weren't seeking money. What they needed was far more profound.
Divina began to share their circumstance. Her niece, Katherine, was just 23 years old with a five year old son, and she was battling leukemia. The chemotherapy was no longer effective, and the doctors in the Dominican Republic had run out of options. Katherine's days were numbered - a mere two months, they said. Tears welled in Siomara’s eyes as she clutched a manila folder filled with medical documents.
We weren't sure how we could help and I made no promises, but I requested to meet Katherine in person. I needed to see the situation firsthand. And so, we set out on a journey, guided by hope and the possibility of a miracle.
Driving through rugged and dirt roads, we finally arrived at Katherine's humble home, a garage-like structure nestled in the hills. There, we found Katherine and her son, both sitting on rocking chairs and smiling in spite of the dire circumstances.
As our eyes met, she greeted us with a warm, "Hola, mucho gusto" and a kiss on the cheek. Katherine's smile was infectious, and when I hugged her she was burning up with a fever. The reality spilled from her lips - she had leukemia, and the clock was ticking. Her chemotherapy treatment had been stopped due to severe allergic reactions, and time was running out.
Questions swirled in my mind. What could I do? What if I could help? The enormity of the situation weighed heavily on my heart. But the one question that echoed loudest was, "What if we could change the course of her current reality?"
Leaving Katherine and her family, I rushed outside to search for a Wi-Fi signal. I needed to connect with a friend, Maria, who had previously navigated the complex process of bringing a young Greek boy to the United States for a similar life-saving treatment. The urgency in my voice matched the urgency of our situation.
Maria's guidance was clear - gather the medical documents, contact leaders in the community, and request a medical visa. With these instructions in mind, I returned to Katherine and Siomara and made no promises to help and assured them that I would use my voice and try to do my best. Before leaving their home, together, we formed a circle, holding hands with everyone in the home, sisters, aunts, Katherine’s five year old son, and a neighbor. Hand in hand there we stood in the hot humid home, strangers united by hope. I offered a prayer for a miracle - a divine intervention to change the course of Katherine's life.
The following day, Caritas Smile volunteers arrived, not knowing that Katherine wasn't part of our original plan. But she had become part of our Caritas Smile family, and she wanted to give back to the world during her remaining time. She joined our volunteer team from Rhode Island and used the little energy she had to paint with children, surprise communities with much needed living supplies, visit “el rio” the river, and share her contagious spirit with our team of volunteers.
After one full week of volunteering in the Dominican Republic, came the volunteers' departure, leaving me behind to continue the work of Caritas Smile and to do everything in my power to help Katherine. I embarked on the crazy task of applying for an emergency medical visa not once, but twice, only to face rejection.
The uncertainties loomed large. What if she didn't get the visa? What if she does get a visa and the treatment doesn’t work? What if she dies in the US thousands of miles away from her son? But with a stubborn kind determination, I continued to apply, read, and submit endless documents. The third application brought success - the visas were approved for both mother and daughter.
Within days, Katherine and Siomara were on a plane to Boston. Katherine's first plane ride, her first step towards a new chance at life. But their journey didn't start as planned. Katherine's health took a drastic turn at the airport, and she was rushed to the emergency room at Brigham and Women's hospital. The hospital staff's swift response saved her life.
A month in the hospital followed, during which Katherine underwent numerous tests and painful biopsies. She was transferred to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where her fight against cancer continued.
The uncertainty remained. Would the treatment work? Could Katherine beat the odds? One thing was certain - her spirit was unbreakable, and her love for her son, Sebastian who stayed back home in the Dominican Republic, was her driving force.
On August 22nd, Katherine walked out of the hospital with a radiant smile and new white Nike’s donated by a volunteer, a symbol of her resilience. Her battle against leukemia was far from over, but she was determined to live each day to the fullest.
This journey taught me that we often underestimate the impact we can have on others' lives. It reminded me that taking chances, even in the face of uncertainty, can lead to profound change. Katherine's story is a testament to the power of hope, faith, and the profound spirit of a mother's love.
As Katherine continues her fight for survival, we can all draw inspiration from her courage. Sometimes, all it takes is a single act of kindness or a prayer for a miracle to change the course of a life. Katherine's story is a testament to the indomitable human spirit and the bonds that unite us all.
Take chances. Take a trip. Change the course of your life because you never know what will happen.
**Sixcia Devine is the founder and CEO of Caritas Smile. She is a speaker, educator, and huamanitarian