In Septemeber 2008, I traveled 6000 miles to Haiti's Kenscoff mountains. My mission: to care for some of the orphaned and abandoned, the sick, malnourished and premature infants of this beautiful but beleagured Caribbean nation.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Life and Loss

A week ago, we heard about a baby girl, born two months prematurely in the north of Haiti. She had been taken to a local orphanage. There were no medical facilities for such tiny babies in the area, so the infant was airlifted to Port-au-Prince along with some of the orphanage staff. We don't know how that came to be, it is almost unheard of for an orphan to be airlifted. We do know that the baby was born in a region that was hit hard by the August-September hurricane season. Perhaps then, she was carried to the capital city by a returning relief flight.

The orphanage staff arrived at one of the hospitals in Port-au-Prince, where Doctors said that they would not admit the baby. They didn't think there was any point; they expected her to die. The orphanage staff hoped that GLA would take the infant.

We were in the middle of a chicken pox epidemic. Our Director was in the States, and there were so many unknowns. We didn't now if the baby would be coming as a medical admission or whether her parents had relinquished her into the care of staff at the orphanage in the North. We didn't know whether the baby's mother had traveled with her to Port-au-Prince, and we didn't know whether the baby was ill, or just premature.

Lori, who is a permanent staff member at GLA knew two things: 1) of course we would take the baby because 2) she would have a fighting chance here.

We got an incubator ready. The nannies were full of questions. We checked our oxygen, our suction and our monitors. We wondered how big the baby would be... if she would need an IV, or maybe just tube feeds? There was expectation in the air in the high care room.

The next morning, the incubator was still empty. 'Did you hear about the baby?' one of the office staff asked.
'What happened?'
'She died'.

I went upstairs, feeling deflated. I turned the incubator off. All the while, I was asking myself why I should be affected by the death of I baby I had never known. The eyes of the nannies were on me. 'The Little baby didn't come,' Jacqueline observed.
'No, the baby died.'
The words did not register. 'Why did the baby not come?'
'Because, Jacqueline, the baby died.'

There was a pause. and a look of surprise that quickly gave way to disappointment and sorrow. We were all feeling it. The lines in the old lady's face seemed to deepen.

There is something about a new baby.

A fresh untarnished life.




And it seemed so cruel, that a mission of mercy to save this precious new life should end there and then. And like that. Please pray for the orphanage staff who tried so desperately to save the life of this precious baby, and pray for her family. It is doubtful that this is the first child they have mourned.

I draw strength from knowing that the tiny baby who died on route to us is safe in our Father's arms, in a far better place. Still, it seems wrong that her life in this world was so short. It is wrong. Very wrong.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

The Dreaded Pox

A month ago, we admitted a 15 month boy with severe malnutrition. His bony arms and legs were covered in pimples. We thought he had scabies.

I was alarmed to see the little skin coloured bumps spread, grow and change a few days later. By the time he was diagnosed with Chicken Pox, many of our babies had all ready been exposed to the virus.

Most children in the developed world who get chicken pox scratch furiously and are thoroughly miserable for a week or so. Occasionally, someone gets infected spots and will be treated with antibiotics. A few children with lesions in their mouth or nappy area might need local anaesthetic creams or sprays to make the more comfortable. Every now and then a child will be too sick to eat or drink and they will need IV fluids. It is a rare thing to come across a child with more serious complications.

Here in Haiti, many children are underweight and anaemic. For them, chicken pox can be more serious. Ester is one of the Haitian nurses who works at God's Littlest Angels. She vividly recalls having chicken pox as a child. She was was extremely ill and her Aunt feared she would not live.

The Director and the staff at GLA received the news that we had a case of chicken pox at the orphanage with varying degrees of of dread. The last time they dealt with a chicken pox epidemic, over 60 children contracted the virus. It was quite the challenge nursing all of these sick children at once!

The children who had been directly exposed to the boy with chicken pox were quarantined. We hoped that this would limit the spread.

In the weeks that followed, I found myself laying in bed at night worrying about our frailest children. I had worked here for a few weeks but all ready, the children had my heart, and I didn't want any harm to come to a single one of them.

When I was awake, my mind was in overdrive. I was on a mission: I was determined to fatten up the thinnest children and I started some of them on multi-vitamins and iron. I began treating the most vulnerable children for parasites. It seemed inevitable that the virus would spread, and I wanted to give every baby the best possible chance of fighting the pox.

I also wanted acyclovir in case any of the HIV positive children became unwell. Acyclovir is a medication that it is used to treat certain viral infections. It must be started as soon as the first lesions appear to effectively treat chicken pox.

I scoured the orphanage for the medication. I was checking the smallest and frailest children daily for signs of illness. I was also checking children with confirmed cases of chicken pox for signs of complications.

Despite my fears and anxieties, I have not seen the raging epidemic I expected, and no-one ha been too sick. Some were very very spotty, most were not. One child had an infected spot. She has completely recovered.

We have gone through several bottles of calomine lotion, and I gave piriton to children who remained uncomfortable. Many thanks to the Scottish nurses who donated bottles of this liquid anti-histamine before I left for Haiti. The children at GLA really appreciate it.

As for the malnourished boy who brought the chicken pox with him, he flourished in issolation, where he got one-on-one care.

I thank God his for keeping his and on our babies, and pray for all the Haitian children who do not have access to the loving and competent care, the sound nutrition and the the medical services that our angels enjoy. Without all of this, I am sure the outcome could have been very different.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

In Prayer and Thanks Giving

I have a new room mate. She joined Stephanie and I two weeks ago. Before you ask, no, it wasn't my idea, it was Dixie's.... She didn't have to ask twice though!

This little lady had been on an IV for a week. She was refusing to feed and our Director felt that she needed some extra TLC. The long and short of it is that TLC worked. Ti cheri (the little darling) came to us weighing 7lb 4oz. Her weight today is 9lb. She is a chubby, beautiful girl and she is starting to do all kinds of amazing things. She smiles, she coos and she pushes her self up when she is lying on her stomach... at risk of being called a baby bore, i'll say no more about her, but can you tell I am in love?

A 15 month old boy was admitted just over two weeks ago. At 13lb, he was marasmic. We had to put him into isolation when he arrived, because he had a contagious skin infection and we didn't want it spreading to the other children. He was angry and depressed when he arrived, but has blossomed with one-on-one attention from Viviene, who cared for him while he was in isolation.
The new little man in our lives is shown here with one of our older children

At 15lb 12oz, this toddler boy's muscles are still wasted, and the skin still wrinkles at his knees, but he has a feisty spirit, and so I believe he will recover. His first word after he arrived was 'Hallelujah!' (that was Vivienne's doing). His second was 'no.' There was no tantrum, just a shake of the head and a quiet but firm refusal to take the medicine on the spoon!

And the little boy we admitted last month, the one who weighed 10lb at 9 months, is now just short of 14lb. He is great fun and very loving. He is always patting the crying NICU babies. Make no mistake, I am head over heels is love with this boy!

Please join me in praying that we will find a wonderful adoptive family for him, and lets give thanks that both of our malnourished boys are doing so well!

Also in need of prayer is this little man. He has been unwell and he has been losing weight. I had a conversation with one of the senior nannies last Thursday. I was holding him, encouraging him to feed. She looked at the baby with a tired, knowing smile.

'He is very thin'
'Yes Jocelyn, he is.'
'Does he have anemia'
'So you are giving him fer-in-sol'(iron supplement).

Jocelyn nodded, still with that same knowing look, and her voice dropped as she advised me I
had to get him to eat. 'You have to make him strong. If you make him strong, he might live.'

'Might.' That got me. I nodded, but couldn't say another word.

Nothing can be taken for granted. Many Haitian babies are born malnourished, because the mothers themselves are undernourished. This makes the babies fragile, and Haiti is not kind to fragile babies. The staff here know the downward spiral of malnutrition and ill health only too well.

We are doing everything in our power to restore this precious little man to good health, and there is reason to be hopeful. Although he is tiny, he is strong enough to hold up his head, and he has an amazing, cheeky smile. He is also getting one-on-one care from a wonderful, compassionate Christian lady with a gift for nurturing tiny babies. We will do what we can, the rest is up to God.

" I know the plans have for you says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. To give you hope and a future."

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Life goes on

My days have settled into an easy rhythm and I am enjoying a much more relaxed pace than I am used to.

The sun has fully risen by 6am. I am usually awake by then, and I spend some quiet time by myself. Around 7am, I start getting myself ready for work. I usually make breakfast in the guest house, then, stroll across the the main orphanage building, which is just a couple of meters away. The older babies are all ready playing up on the balcony by 8am. I never pass by without waving to the and blowing kisses. They shout "hiya" with great toddler enthusiasm. Their little bodies are pressed against the railings and their eyes shine with excitement, even though I might be the 10th person to have they have passed by that morning, even though I might be passing for the 5th time that day, even though I have been here a month all ready... and I feel all warm and fuzzy inside every single time.

Up in the high care nursery, I greet Madam Bernard, the staff and Youlene, who is the mother of the premature baby we are nursing at the moment. The baby is growing fast and now weighs in at an impressive 5lb 7oz. She will soon be big enough to be discharged. The baby and her mother will be missed when they return home. Youlene has been so friendly to me and so helpful around the nursery

Madam Bernard and I go round all the babies, review their charts from the night before, check their temperatures and give medications. On Tuesdays we weigh all 100 babies and assess them for some of the common problems we see; fevers, rashes, and pink eye for example. We treat any problems we pick up. Every Wednesday afternoon, a Haitian paediatrician visits the orphanage. It it wonderful to be able to have her review sick children on site.

Some days are very busy, caring for children on IV's or nebulizers. Other days, everyone is well, and there is plenty of time to give the children extra attention and to work on some of their developmental needs.

Today I spent time with a gorgeous little man who is teething. He was feeing absolutely miserable and was very grateful for teething gel from Scotland, for a teething ring a thoughtful volunteer had put in the freezer, and for a dose of pain medicine. I like to think that my hugs made a difference to him too.