Quake Hits Close to Home for SDSU's Nagy, Adopted Daughter
"My wife was out of town until Saturday and so I was kind of struggling with how to handle it," says Nagy, who with his wife, Janie, adopted Naika (Ny-I-ka) in 2005. "It's not like we sat here in front of the TV, but we couldn't avoid it, either."
The earthquake that registered a 7.0 on the Richter scale has already claimed tens of thousands of lives in what already was the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. The absence of potable water and a stable government threaten to turn a natural disaster into a more alarming human one with thousands more dead. For Nagy, the initial concern was his daughter's well-being and the fate of Nakia's birth mother, which is unknown at this time.
"I asked her if she had things on her mind and at first she said, 'No'," said Nagy, who is in his 15th season at South Dakota State, a Division I school. "Then, as she saw the images on TV, she thought that everybody was dead."
"Most of them lived," Nagy told her.
"So, four people died?" Nakia asked.
"More than that."
Nagy and his wife have four biological children, three sons and a daughter, ages 7 to 15. In 2005, they decided to adopt. In May of that year, Nagy and his father visited the Three Angels orphanage in Port-au-Prince where he met Naika, who was then 2 years old. Even then, Haiti's poverty was unfathomable to most Americans, Nagy recalled.
"We stayed at the St. Joseph's Boys Home -- which we found out was demolished in the earthquake, by the way -- just 150 yards from the orphanage," he said. "When we'd walk from the boys home to the orphanage they'd have a local accompany us because you stand out if you're white. You approach the gate and there's a guy standing there with a shotgun. Because they have food, and they're afraid people will loot the place."
Last Friday, the Jackrabbits lost at North Dakota State, 79-67. "That's a big rivalry game for us," said Nagy, whose squad is 9-9 on the season, "but I was talking to the reporters afterward and it just felt less important for once. There's people over in Haiti fighting for their lives."
One of those may be Naika's birth mother, with whom the Nagy family had not kept in touch the past few years. However, a Haitian friend who lives near their Brookings, S.D., home has done so and is attempting to locate her. Naika also has a biological brother who, like her, has been adopted by an American family.
"We just received good news," said Nagy. "All 26 children at the orphanage are safe and yesterday they were flown to the U.S. for adoption. There's a lot of red tape in the adoption process with a third-world country ordinarily, but all of that has been expedited this week because of the extreme circumstances."
Last year, Nagy helped donate pairs of shoes to Haiti through the Samaritan's Feet foundation, a project that first gained renown when IUPUI basketball coach Ron Turner coached a game barefoot two years ago. Saturday, when South Dakota State hosts Oakland (Mich.), Nagy will coach barefoot as will high school coaches statewide in South Dakota.
"All you have to do is text 'SHOES' to 85944 and five dollars will be added to your phone bill as a donation to buy shoes for a child in need," said Nagy, whose goal is to help collect 2,000 pairs of shoes.
Nagy's memories of Haiti make the scenes of destruction that he has seen on television this week even more vivid.
"When people there get enough money to have a home, they get cinder blocks and build right on top of each other," he says. "There's no way of telling how many people lived in Port-au-Prince before the earthquake hit. You have a corrupt government stealing money from its people. When we visited in 2005 there was a U.S. advisory against visiting even then."
As the death toll mounts, the reality is that thousands more Haitian youths have lost their parents. The streets of Port-au-Prince are teeming with newly homeless and orphaned children. Has Nagy considered adopting again?
"I just asked my wife that question," said Nagy. "Obviously there are so many orphans in need now. We discussed it last night. Janie is the primary caregiver in our house. It's her call."