Holding Onto Life

A medical diagnosis gives Compassion staff the opportunity to find answers for a sick girl.
Leoneri, wearing pink, outside her home with her mother, grandmother and siblings.

Why?” is not an uncommon question for a 5-year-old to ask. “Why is the sky blue?” “Why is my hair brown?” “Why do I have to go to bed?”

But little Leoneri’s question was harder to answer.

“Why am I so sick?”

It was a question her mother, Yesmerlin, struggled to answer. For Leoneri’s whole life, Yesmerlin had done the best she could for her daughter. When she was 16, pregnant and alone, she enrolled in a Compassion International Child Survival center near her home in the Dominican Republic.

The staff at the center helped Yesmerlin move back in with her family, and they celebrated with her when she gave birth to a healthy, beautiful girl. For the next three years, Yesmerlin learned how to care for her daughter, and when Leoneri was 3 she was enrolled in Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program. At the center she played with her friends, learned her colors and numbers, and drew pictures for her new sponsor.

At age 5, however, Leoneri began exhibiting strange physical symptoms. First she complained of her eyes hurting, and then she developed skin rashes. Soon the once-pleasant little girl began having violent mood swings.

Staff at the center helped Yesmerlin set up a doctor’s appointment for Leoneri. After multiple blood tests, they had an answer.

Leoneri had insulin-dependent diabetes.

Leoneri outside her home

A diagnosis of diabetes for a 5-year-old is devastating no matter where you live. But for Yesmerlin, struggling to raise Leoneri in a poverty-stricken community with few resources, it felt like a death sentence. As doctors rattled off a list of medications and dietary restrictions, Yesmerlin felt like she could barely breathe.

But then she remembered. She was not alone.

“The first thing I did when doctors told me that my baby girl was diabetic was to call Mercedes at the Compassion center,” says Yesmerlin. “I didn’t know what to do. Life was so difficult already, and it makes it more difficult when one of your children is sick.”

Mercedes is the administrative assistant at the center, and she also suffers from diabetes. She now shared a special bond with Leoneri and provides a place of comfort and support for Yesmerlin. In the days and weeks after the diagnosis, Mercedes went to each doctor’s appointment with Yesmerlin and Leoneri. She taught Leoneri how to take her insulin and answered Yesmerlin’s questions.

But it isn’t just Mercedes who supports the family. Nubia, Leoneri’s tutor, checks in on the little girl when she is too sick to come to the center. Other staff make sure there is always healthy food for Leoneri to eat.

“We try to help as much as we can, because we know that Yesmerlin and her family are having a difficult time,” says Mercedes.


Mercedes, an administrative assistant at Leoneri's Compassion center, is a source of support for Yesmerlin and Leoneri.
Leoneri reads a letter from her sponsor.

Even Leoneri’s sponsor offers support through his letters, inquiring about how she is feeling and committing to pray for the girl’s health.

“[In my letters] I like to draw a house, my family and him all together with us,” says Leoneri. “When he sends gifts I go to the grocery store to buy things that I can eat,” says Leoneri.

Yesmerlin would never wish for her daughter’s health issues. She prays for healing and for strength for her little girl. And she can pray with confidence, knowing that God’s people have committed to being His hands and feet to her family.

“The project has always been here when Leoneri needed it the most,” says Yesmerlin. “They have always said ‘yes’ to help her. I’ve never received a ‘no’ as an answer. They are always with their arms opened to help.”

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Holding Onto Life

A medical diagnosis gives Compassion staff the opportunity to find answers for a sick girl.

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