An account of how a large Catholic medical center has lost its way. Go to to see recent updates.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Paul Kramer--Executive Director Children's Hospital of Illinois

(This is Ania Excellente, a 5 year old, with her grandma. I took this picture in March, 2005 at the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Ania suffered from rheumatic heart disease which weakened her mitral valve. Her grandma brought her food from home everyday and bathed her and begged me to do something for Ania. I told her I would try. All she needed was surgery on her mitral valve to have a new chance at life. She had her passport and was ready to travel. Several weeks ago, the pediatrician in charge of the pediatric unit at the General Hospital told me Ania had recently died.)

Paul Kramer is Executive Director of Children’s Hospital of Illinois (CHOI). I carried on many of the discussions regarding Haitian Hearts with Paul.

Haitian Hearts was a small group of friends of mine that sat around our kitchen table and planned ways to raise money for CHOI to help pay for the Haitian kids we brought to Peoria for heart surgery at OSF-CHOI. We had no overhead and all funds we raised went directly to CHOI. We paid for the Haitian kids passports, visas, airline tickets, food, medications out of our own back pockets. On occasion, we even paid for their surgery from our back pocket.

As the years went by, we brought many Haitian kids needing surgery. We raised $1.1 million over 7 years that went to OSF-CHOI. The doctors at OSF never charged Haitian Hearts for their services.

During a meeting with Paul in his office in 2000, Paul said to me that “Haitian Hearts is becoming too competitive for CHOI.” He meant that we were raising so much money in the Peoria community that was earmarked Haitian kids surgery at CHOI, he was worried that CHOI was being left out for purposes other than Haitian Hearts. For exmple, Paul and many others wanted to build a free standing childrens hospital. (That $250 million project is now underway.) I think he was nervous that people were contributing to CHOI-Haitian Hearts, not for cement and bricks for the new hospital. I didn’t know what to think for sure.

Caterpillar Foundation was donating $10,000 per year to CHOI for Haitian Hearts. We noticed that on April 1, 2001, Caterpillar only donated $500 to Haitian Hearts. Where had the other $9,500 gone?

When CHOI hired Linda Arnold as director of CHOI Foundation she brought me a letter to sign that said that Haitian Hearts had donated $300,000 to CHOI. (I knew we had donated at least $600,000 to CHOI over the years. ) I told Linda that her amount was wrong, so she changed it to $400,000. I refused to sign that letter as well, telling her the amount was at least $600,000. She left the room and changed the letter yet again to $600,000. I signed this letter. My faith in the good faith of CHOI Foundation was falling quickly. The best I could say, was that their “bookkeeping” was bad.

Haitian Hearts never received itemized bills for our Haitian kids. CHOI just told us what they “cost”. So to check this out, an OSF nurse reviewed 6 charts of Haitian kids bills, and found that we had been charged $40,000 too much. (Example: Heart valves that were donated by the companies that make them for the Haitian surgeries, were charged to the kids.) When we showed Kramer the errors, he did give Haitian Hearts credit for these OSF mistakes. I wondered how many more mistakes there were that we would never know about. This was so important to know, because it could mean that we were leaving kids in Haiti unoperated because of poor bookkeeping at OSF.

OSF also purchased a $21,000 sonogram probe with Haitian Heats money by mistake, and apparently returned the money to the Haitian Hearts account within CHOI.

A physician donated overtime hours he had worked to CHOI-Haitian Hearts. His donations over the years did not show up on the computer sheet as going towards surgery for Haitian kids. I tried to track down his money for 2 years at OSF, and was unable to. He was afraid to look for it himself for fear of repurcussions.

After I was fired on December 18, 2001 Paul Kramer constructed a letter to the financial supporters of CHOI, except he would not sign it. Also, there was not a date on it. It was signed by the wife of one of the cardiologists who took care of Haitian kids over the years. The letter stated, that despite my “leaving” OSF, the future of the Haitian Hearts program is bright and that the commitment of the Sisters and much of the central Illinois community is strong. This program will continue.” The idea, of course, was that just because I was gone, don’t stop donating to CHOI. I was pretty sure that OSF was going to stop their support of Haitian kids coming to OSF, I just didn’t know when. Paul Kramer was too smart to sign the letter, probably because he knew also. (Sources close to Steffen within the medical center had told me, prior to my firing, that Steffen was going to cut OSF’s support of Haitian Hearts.)

On January 3,2002, OSF spokesperson Chris Lofgren confidently stated in the Peoria Journal Star, “John’s leaving (St. Francis) really doesn’t change Haitian Hearts at all. I was quoted as saying, “Haitian Hearts was held over my head by Keith Steffen. The implication was, Haitian Hearts would survive if I survived (at St. Francis). ”

During the Spring, 2002, Haitian Hearts under the guidance of Jim Holmes. a Haitian Hearts supporter, approached CHOI and Paul Kramer and told them we wanted to build a house in East Peoria, sell the house, and give what we made on the house (Haitian House) to CHOI for Haitian children’s surgeries. Paul did all he could to talk him out of this. Jim Holmes did it anyway and with the help of the central Illinois community, was able to sell the house for $187,000 at the end of 2002.

After the house sold, Kramer talked to Jim and begged him for this money. Kramer was quite insistent on getting this money from the project he discouraged from the beginning. Jim told him that the check would be sent when I gave the ok. Kramer told Jim, “Haitian Hearts does not exist and it wasn’t important for me to give the “OK”. (Haitian Hearts authorized that this money go to CHOI in early December, 2002.)

Haitian Hearts worst fears were realized when OSF pulled all financial support for the Haitian kids. This occurred on July 12, 2002. Chris Lofrgen’s statements to the media had been misleading in January and the letter written by Paul Kramer had misled the public. (Lofgren told me that he was intimately involved in the discussions with administration regarding my termination, so I don’t think the July news was a surprise to Lofgren either.)

In the fall, 2002, a Rotary Club North official, Lyn Banta, called me one afternoon at home. He told me that Linda Arnold at OSF Foundation had just called him and demanded RCN turn over any funds they had collected for Haitian Hearts for transportation, food, medication, for the Haitian kids. This amounted to $12,500. This fund was designed for people like the small group of us who sat around my kitchen table and paid for these expenses out of our pockets. Now, OSF-CHOI Foundation was attempting to get these funds. Paul Kramer told a Haitian Hearts supporter that he had asked Arnold to make this call to Mr. Banta. Paul was part of the original conversations with Lyn Banta when this independent fund was started by RCN, and Paul knew that money was not to go inside of CHOI for CHOI’s expenses. Mr. Banta refused to turn over the funds to Arnold, even though she was “adamant” that he give them up. Mr. Banta told me that day, “John, you would never have seen these funds, if I had given them to CHOI- Foundation. ”

So, at the end of 2002, Haitian Hearts had raised and donated $445,000 to CHOI for their work with the Haitian kids. This totalled at least $1.1 million raised by Haitian hearts in 7 years, all of it going to CHOI. Multiple attempts were made to discourage us from raising funds for these kids by Kramer, and Arnold had tried to tap into funds that were not to go to CHOI. And true to what I was told, OSF-administration cut any funding for Haitian Hearts in July, 2002 which was opposite to what OSF was telling the media in January. (No one in Haitian Hearts really believed what OSF said to the media.)

Then, to top off the year, Paul Kramer called the American Consulate in Port-au-Prince, Haiti after he received the Haitian House check in December, and asked the Consulate not to grant any more visas for my kids who needed to travel to OSF-CHOI for surgery. When the Consulate officials were telling me this in Haiti, a young lady, Bisolo, who was a Consulate official, began to hyperventilate and had to sit down. She knew what OSF-CHOI’s demand would mean for the Haitian kids in Haiti that would now not be able to leave Haiti…..

In 2003, even worse things would happen.

Below is a letter from Gift of Life, a project of Rotary Club in New York:

September 10,2003

Dr. John Carroll
2727 Heading Avenue
Peoria, Illinois 61604

Dear John,

I am simply ashamed I cannot find the proper words to address someone as awesome as you are. It is with great pleasure coupled with humility that I made your acquaintance.

Your dedication, your sense of justice, your demeanor undoubtedly put one at ease. I remember when I first met you in the courtyard of Susie Karbacher's residence, I realized your devotion and your savoir-faire in a split second. Moreover, due to your caring and compassion, I felt that I had already known you or met you as I immediately felt the sense of serenity that permeates through you.

Well John, on behalf of Haiti and its people and more importantly, on behalf of all these impoverished, sick children, I offer my thanks and gratitude to you for your mercy, love, charity, kindness and unselfish care.

One day John, HaIti will get back on its feet and it will only become self¬sufficient due to individuals like you who have a sixth sense and who have cared for its downtrodden as you knew that snmething positive will come out of all your devotion.

May God keep bestowing His blessings on you and keep you under His wings always.

Bepty Antoine-Lauren,
Haitian Gift of Life, Inc.

Gift of Life International Honorees

Harriet Hodges 1983 • Nancy Reagan 1984 • William E. Skelton 1985 • Jerry Lewis 1986. Danny Thomas 1987. Sally Struthers 1988 Royce Abbey 1989 • Alan King 1990 • Elliott Gould 1991 • Gavin Macleod and Chad Everett 1992 • Dr. Frank Field and Storm Field 1993 Steve Guttenberg 1994. Tony Randall 1995 • Jack Klugman 1996 • Morgan Fairchild 1997. Connie Stevens 1998. Rod Steiger 1999 Eric Close 2000 • Barbara Sinatra 2001 • Congressman Gary Ackerman 2002 • Pat LaFontaine 2003
Gift of Lite, Inc. is a nonprofit, tax exempt corporation administered by participating Rotarians of
District 7250 for the purpose of providing open-heart surgery to needy children throughout the world.

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