Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Community mourns girl, 10

Child of immigrant parents dies following minor surgery

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A duplex in Richmond Lakes was crammed on Sunday with friends rallying around a Winnipeg family that is grieving a 10-year-old girl who died after minor surgery.

Parked cars lined the street. Offerings of food filled the porch steps. Inside the modest home on Verrier Place, more than 50 friends sat quietly in a show of support for a couple who lost a daughter they considered a gift from God.

The child's name was Ashuza, which means "God answers prayers" in Swahili. Her name was appropriate because her parents, who are Christians, prayed and tried to conceive for 10 years before they received the gift of a girl.

"I don't know why it took so long for her to come to us, and I don't know why she was taken so soon," Ashuza's father, Willy Halisi, said on Sunday.

"She was a good girl."

Halisi said Ashuza had surgery at the Maples Surgical Centre Monday afternoon for an umbilical hernia, an outward bulging of the abdominal lining around her belly button. Doctors told Ashuza's mother, Ephemie Nyelele, that Ashuza would be able to go home, but should expect pain and take Tylenol.

Ashuza's mother gave her a Tylenol every four hours, but it didn't help.

"They started praying. Praying and asking God to heal her," said Halisi, who with his wife, immigrated to Canada in 1996 and attends Calvary Temple African Fellowship.

On Tuesday at 2 a.m., Nyelele found her daughter panting, covered in sweat and with cold legs and feet.

"My wife told her, 'Don't leave us, Ashuza,' " said Willy. " 'Don't leave us, don't go.' "

Nyelele tried cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Ashuza and called 911. Paramedics also tried CPR but when they arrived at Children's Hospital, Ashuza was pronounced dead.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority released an email statement Sunday.

"The death of Ashuza Halisa just two days after her surgery at Maples Surgical Centre was an unexpected tragedy that is already under review by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (CME) to try and determine what happened and why.

"The CME is required to be notified any time a patient dies within 10 days of surgery, but more importantly, any time a child dies. Both Maples and the WRHA are in contact with the CME and providing whatever information is requested or that we believe would be of assistance.

"We are reaching out to the family to offer our condolences to them as well as any supports or counselling services they may want or need as they deal with their grief."

Halisi works in the Congo as a public affairs manager for a Canadian mining company. He was in Congo when Ashuza died.

"It was a journey I will never forget," said Halisi of his 18-hour flight home. "Airports are always busy. I was hoping to find someone to talk to... but I cried the whole way. I could not hide my tears."

As soon as Halisi arrived in Winnipeg, he went straight to the hospital to see his daughter. He was turned away.

"The person came and said the case is under investigation," said Halisi. "I haven't seen my daughter...

"I have no closure."

Halisi said the chief medical examiner's office called him Friday saying Ashuza had an infection in her pelvis and they did not know why.

"It doesn't make sense," said Halisi. "She was healthy before she went in for the surgery."

Ashuza's funeral is planned for Tuesday.

steph.crosier@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 18, 2013 A3

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