With a big grin and looking at himself in the camera, Nickerson confidently states in English, “Hi, my name is Nickerson. I am from Haiti. I am seven. My birthday is September 1. I’m going to be eight. I want to help my brothers and sisters.”

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“Nickerson was brought to me in Haiti because he was getting ready to have a surgery to correct a hernia. They wanted me to check him, but when I looked at him, I realized it wasn’t a hernia, but that he was very sick and had fluid around his heart, his lungs, and inside his belly. I became very concerned that he needed hospitalization to have some life-saving treatment,” Dr. Karen Strange, a pediatric specialist, said. Dr. Strange was serving with Give Hope International on a medical mission team in Haiti.

Dr. Strange consulted with an ER specialist, Dr. Gary Klein, who was also with the medical team, as they looked at Nickerson together. “I walked into the room and saw this very young boy on the table. As I positioned my stethoscope and started to listen, it was immediately obvious what was going on. There is a certain sound that a physician is very familiar with, called an S3. It’s a sound you don’t like to hear, especially in an infant. He was filled with fluid. He was very sick,” Dr. Klein said.

Nickerson was breathing hard, was very weak, could hardly hold his head up. His sponsor mom, Michelle Cherikos, describes him during that time: “he would put on sunglasses and just kind of hide because he didn’t want to talk or play with anyone. He had no energy and was very lethargic.”

Both doctors quickly agreed that Nickerson needed to go to a hospital. But in Haiti, it can be difficult to find a hospital that can handle an investigation like this and be able to provide the treatment. It can also be difficult to get there. With much determination and planning, they arrived at a hospital. Once there, numerous tests were run on Nickerson and the cause of his illness was discovered—a parasite that had entered through his bare feet.

“Many of the parasites that are in Haiti, and countries like Haiti, come from poor hygiene and not having shoes, where the parasites can enter through the feet. Once the parasite enters the body, it can then invade different organs, different tissues, and then cause somebody to be very sick. And that’s how we found Nickerson,” Dr. Strange said.

Nickerson, unfortunately, didn’t have proper footwear which allowed his feet to be exposed to contamination. The symptoms that Nickerson experienced because of the parasite impacted several aspects of his life and of his family’s life. It would interrupt his daily life and his ability to thrive.

Dr. Klein added, “In the United States, shoes are a fashion item. But in a place like Haiti, this is an essential item for everyday health. Without proper shoes, any open sore on the foot is fair game for any type of hookworm, amoeba, anything is going to be able to enter that rather quickly and then work its way into the brain, the lungs, the liver, the kidneys. And it’s devastating. And Nickerson was heading down that path.”

Shoes play a crucial role in the stability of present life and the possibility of a better future in many countries. They not only provide protection, they can also provide opportunities. For instance, in Haiti, and countries like it, shoes are often required in order to attend school.

“There have been times when I walk around Haiti, see kids not in school, and I ask why they aren’t in school. They say ‘I don’t have shoes.’ It’s really important for these children to be in school, to get an education, to be around kids their age, to have a teacher that they know is believing in them and giving them hope for a future,” said Cherikos.

Dr. Klein and one of the Haitian physicians performed some life-saving treatments on Nickerson throughout that next week and they were able to stabilize him enough that Nickerson left the following week. “He was so sick, I don’t think he would have lived if the doctors didn’t step in,” Cherikos said.

Nickerson has been through quite a lot for a seven-year-old boy. But he has come out a strong, joyful child who loves life. “It’s in him. He has the drive to live,” Dr. Strange said.

“There is an innocence in Nickerson that transcends what we have here in the United States. It’s the innocence, the fact that when he gives you a hug, it’s coming from his heart. It’s absolutely a treat and thrill to see him thriving now,” Dr. Klein said.

Nickerson runs up to meet any new friend with a large smile on his face, eyes big in anticipation, and his arms open wide ready for a big hug. You may also get a handshake, an “I love you,” a fist bump, or a “you have big muscles.” And you just can’t help but give him a big grin back because of his contagious joy.

“There are a million things I love about Nickerson, but I love his smile. And he always tells you how much he loves you,” Cherikos said. For one who almost lost life, he is certainly taking advantage of it now. And he’s encouraging everyone else too, as well.

Watch a Video

Check out this video that includes our interview with the doctors and you’ll get to meet Nickerson!