DEXTER — Those who have met 13-year-old Natasha Truelove, a Haitian girl visiting friends in Dexter last week, will never forget her. And it's likely Natasha will never forget her time in Southeast Missouri or the moment she was told that her country was in shambles, hit by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that has left hundreds of thousands dead.
Natasha Truelove is a survivor. Her life began with a fight to live after her biological mother gave birth to her on the dirt roads of a poverty-stricken area in northwest Haiti.
"It was not uncommon for Haitian women to leave a newborn baby, especially one as premature as Natasha, in a place where they knew someone would rescue her and take her to someone who might provide medical care and give the baby a chance to survive. That's what happened with Natasha," said Brandy Mouser, a local hairstylist and massage therapist whose father spent three weeks each winter for many years volunteering his time in some of the neediest areas of Haiti.
The infant, weighing less than 2 pounds when she was found still attached to her mother's placenta, was found by locals on a dirt road and taken to the home of Carol Ann Truelove, a nurse from Florida. She and her husband, George, were serving as missionaries to Nan Setrain in the northwest area of the country.
Mouser's father, Dennis Reel, would return home after his winter work in Haiti and tell his daughter, Brandy, of the children there and their needs and of the satisfaction in being able to construct homes and improve the lives of the Haitian people.
One of the homes Reel helped to build on a mission trip in the 1980s was for the Trueloves. It was a labor of love, Reel said, that resulted in a one-story shelter from which the Trueloves could carry on their "mission."
Dennis and Mary Ann Reel became regular visitors with the Trueloves on their visits to Haiti and watched as their family grew. The Trueloves had a son, Austin, who is now 23. And then came Natasha.
Natasha was adopted by the Trueloves and thrived. Now 13, Natasha was visiting the U.S. with her parents, heading to Southeast Missouri to visit with Dennis Reel's family.
Mouser met Natasha three years ago when Natasha was 10 years old and accompanying her parents on a visit to the U.S.
"I just fell in love with her," Mouser said, "as we all have."
Mouser said they spent a perfect day together.
And then came the news of the earthquake.
Mouser received initial reports through phone calls and text messages. It was her task to ruin Natasha's perfect day.
"We were on the way home, and I told her that we had received word that something terrible had happened. I told her about the quake and that it was very bad, but how happy we were that she and her parents were here and were safe.
"I looked over at her and tears were running down her beautiful face. It was one of the saddest moments I can recall."
The news was slow in reaching the Trueloves in the states, but the couple was assured Thursday that their foster children and those immediately close to them in their village were safe. Five of their foster children were reported safe.
The Trueloves are scheduled return to Haiti in early February, if possible.
In the meantime, friends of the Trueloves have established a fund at Dexter's Southern Bank. The fund is called the Haiti Relief Fund, and Janice Nichols at the bank is the contact person for anyone interested in contributing to the fund, Mouser said. Any money contributed to the account will go directly to the Trueloves to be used in their village for those most in need.