Iowa Couple Travels to Haiti to Bring Home Adopted Daughter

"Nightline" found 4-year-old Ester outside her orphanage -- alive and well.

January 19, 2010, 1:47 PM

Jan. 19, 2010— -- In a quake-ravaged country that seems plunged into darkness, it was a rare, bright moment when an Iowa couple reunited with their 4-year-old adopted Haitian daughter Maya Ester in Port-au-Prince Monday.

"I just was so relieved and just so happy and so very emotional to be able to touch her and to hold her," mother Mandy Poulter said. "We haven't really put her down since."

On Wednesday night -- 24 hours after the quake hit Port-au-Prince -- "Nightline" spoke with Matt and Mandy Poulter of Pella, Iowa. They had lost contact with the orphanage where the child they had adopted, Maya Ester, was living while they awaited a visa for her. The couple had spent three years travelling back and forth to Haiti, and were just weeks away from bringing Maya Ester home when the earthquake struck. Like so many others waiting to hear news about loved ones, the couple prayed for their daughter's safety, but were left to imagine the worst.

After three excruciating days of being unable to reach the orphanage via phone or the Internet, they gave "Nightline" directions to the Central Texas Orphan Mission Alliance near Port-au-Prince.

Robin Roberts and her crew drove through the broken streets until they found the orphanage. It was damaged, but Maya Ester and the eight other children were alright -- frightened, but safe.

Mandy Poulter was exuberant when Roberts spoke to her Thursday through Skype with the news.

"We definitely found her," said Roberts. "I am looking at her right now. She's OK. She's not injured. She's ready to go home to Iowa."

Through her tears, Mandy Poulter gave Roberts a message to convey to Maya Ester: "Can you tell her that Mommy and Daddy love her and we will come as soon as we can to bring her home," she said. "Just tell her we love her, and give her a hug and tell her Mommy and Daddy will be there."

Roberts whispered the message into the sleeping child's ear: "Ester, your mom and dad love you, and they are going to be coming to get you as soon as they can."

Mandy contacted two other families from Pella, who, like them, had been due to adopt children from the same orphanage. They gathered in the Poulter's living room that night to look at photo that Roberts and her team had emailed them from the orphanage.

Fight to Bring Ester Home

But the children had limited food and water and they were living outside the damaged building with only a tarp to protect them from the scorching heat. The Poulters decided they had to go to Haiti and bring back Maya Ester.

Mandy and Matt arrived in the Dominican Republic, next door to Haiti, at 4:45 Monday morning. ABC News was able to get them two seats on a helicopter -- one which ABC News has been using to ferry supplies to our staff on the ground in Port-au-Prince.

Once they arrived, the Poulters made their way to the orphanage -- a road they have driven many times before.

Finally, after six days of anguish, Mandy was able to hold her daughter. Then Maya Ester clung to her father -- a tearful reunion for the couple who have watched her grow up since she was 19 months old.

Matt and Mandy don't want to leave any of the other eight children behind and brought all but the youngest boy from the orphanage to the U.S. embassy Monday. The scene there was chaotic -- with Haitians seeking help lined up outside. But the Poulters, as American passport holders, went to the front of the line.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, arranged for the Poulters to get an emergency visa for Maya Ester.

"We celebrate this story, but in doing so, recognize that there are countless other stories that go untold and families that still need assistance," said Harkin. "This is a small victory given the scope of this disaster, but it is a touching story that shows out of devastation can still come hope."

After hours of uncertainty, the Poulters emerged with visas for Maya Ester and the four other children destined for Iowa, whose adoptions were underway before the earthquake. The other children will remain behind in Haiti, at least for now, and the Poulters returned them to the orphanage. Maya Ester and the four other children bound for Iowa went to the airport with the Poulters late last night.

The couple was met there by the director of the orphanage, who raised an objection to any of the children other than Maya Ester leaving for the U.S. with the Poulters until their adoptions were formally completed. Mandy Poulter told Robin Roberts that the couple will return in February for the four other children.

Haitian Orphans Homeward Bound

On "Good Morning America" Tuesday morning, Mandy Poulter told Robin Roberts that Maya Ester and the four other children were en route to Iowa.

"We are in Homestead, Florida...we're going to go through customs," Mandy said, on the phone from Florida. "We're going to get bussed to Miami International Airport."

Mandy said the children, who had never been on an airplane before, "are real troopers; they are very strong kids."

She joked with Roberts that even Miami seemed chilly to the children, who are used to the heat of Haiti. "Iowa might be a bit of a shock to them, weather wise," Mandy Poulter added.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that it was enacting a wider program to temporarily allow more orphans from Haiti already matched with American families or in the midst of the adoption process to enter the United States.