A tired and sick 4-year-old is carried down the escalator and into the baggage claim area at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Though unsure of his surroundings, he manages a few brief smiles as his Haitian and American families talk to each other in a whirlwind of questions and explanations centered around one topic – Nickerson.
Before he arrives, his American “mom” shares her anxiety about how the airport meeting will go. They have met several times before on her trips to Haiti, but how will this little boy handle being thrust into a new country, culture and language all at once?
Not to mention the many doctor visits that are to come. And will he need surgery to fix his heart condition?
Only time will tell.
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Nickerson, 4, is an orphan and a sponsor child of the Cherikos family of Tega Cay. Michelle Cherikos, a former S.C. Strawberry Pageant title holder, volunteers with Give Hope Global, a faith-oriented non-profit based in Fort Mill. The organization runs two orphanages in Haiti and provides meals, education and medical care for the children.
The Cherikos’ say they didn’t choose Nickerson, Nickerson chose them.
He formed a fast bond with Aiden, the Cherikos’ oldest son on an October 2015 mission trip. Cherikos, owner of Angel Eye Portraits, travels to Haiti a few times a year as Give Hope’s photographer. Sons Aiden, 10 and Xander, 9, take turns accompanying mom to Haiti while dad Alex holds down the fort.
“I kinda wanted to bring (Nickerson) back,” Aiden said.
By the time Cherikos was back in Haiti with Xander in March, he was gravely ill and given just two days to live. Cherikos held him the whole week, watching him grow more and more limp from congestive heart failure and fearing he would die in her arms.
“I can remember every detail down to what he was wearing when (the doctor) said he didn’t have long to live,” Cherikos remembered.
“When Nickerson got sick, (Michelle) was really petrified,” said pastor Louis St-Germain of El Shaddai Ministries and the Give Hope Global Haitian Field Director.
“Seeing him in the hospital, my heart broke, but I had to stay strong for him,” Cherikos said.
Halfway through the week long trip, Nickerson had to leave for a hospital six hours away.
“As I kissed him goodbye all the emotions came rushing out because I knew I wouldn’t see him until June,” she said.
He defied the odds to pull through, but continued to suffer heart problems. All that is known is that something is wrong with his heart, it hasn’t been determined what condition he has or how to treat it.
When Cherikos returned in June, Nickerson’s health had not significantly improved and doctors in Haiti said there was nothing more they could do to help him. It was then that preparations were made to bring him to the states.
Nickerson is here, but they’re taking next steps one day at a time – for now. Figuring out how exactly he will receive care is in the works, but as yet undetermined.
But the Cherikos’ and Give Hope officials remain undeterred in their mission.
“We don’t know what is needed (for Nickerson,) but we’re going to find out,” said Give Hope Global co-founder and Baxter Village resident Angela Quinn. “(Michelle’s) a woman that just makes things happen.”
Cherikos said she credits God for “opening every door” for Nickerson to come.
“From the beginning, God has laid out the plan. I haven’t questioned one time that (Nickerson) should come, and when we got word that his visa was approved, I wasn’t even shocked. I knew in my heart that this little boy would be here.”
A local family and a Haitian orphan share a bond and now a home. They share love but not language and a mix of uncertainty and hope.
Kelly Lessard: email@example.com, @KellyLessardFMT