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, 30 November 2008

On His Way To a Happy Ending

This baby was admitted almost a month ago. This photograph was take a few days after he arrived. He was 8 months old and weighed 9lb 8 oz but almost a lb of that was "water weight." You can see that his face is puffy and that his hair is yellow and very sparse. There are many areas on his body where his skin is light due to loss of skin pigment. His growth is so stunted that he is wearing newborn clothes. These are all signs of Kwashiorkor ( a type of malnutrition that makes children swell.)

No-one knows exactly why some malnourished children develop kwashiorkor and others do not. Scientists agree that lack of protein in the diet is one of the main causes of kwashiorkor but it seems that liver damage and deficiencies in particular vitamins, minerals and fats also contribute to this type of malnutrition.

The baby was sleepy when he came in but he seemed hungry and he was not showing signs of serious illness. Our first priority was to start re-feeding him so that his blood sugar would stay up and so that he would get the fluid, salts and nutrients he needed. We soon learned that the baby could not suck from a bottle. He hadn't had any milk since Mum had died when he was a few weeks old. His Dad had spoon fed him maize porridge ever since.

We started him on folic acid and iron supplements and within a few days, we started to give him a richer milk formula.

This little man had been very hungry at home. He had sucked his fingers so often and so vigorously that two of his finger nails had come off. The area around the cuticles were red and hot. Knowing that babies with kwashiokor are very vulnerable to infection, we started him on antibiotics right away.

The second photograph shows him 10 days after he was admitted. He is alert, he is beginning to gain weight.... and he is still sucking on those fingers. I suppose old habits die hard!

I am pleased to say that he is recovering well from his malnutrition. Although he is still very little for his age, he weighs over 12lb and is quite chubby. He is a happy baby, with lots of personality and a very cheeky smile.

Only time will tell whether he will fully recover from the effects of kwashiorkor. Some children have permanent issues with learning and concentration following an episode of severe malnutrition.We are stimulating this little man with toys and I am encouraging him in his development. I am very glad that he is doing so well just now and I enjoy having him in our room.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

27 Reasons To Be Thankful

Today we celebrated American Thanksgiving. I'm sure that the festivities were tinged with sadness for many of the staff and volunteers; thanksgiving is a family holiday and they were not able to spend it with their loved ones this year.

This though is not a time to dwell on sad thoughts. In the spirit of thankfulness, we were each asked to share two or three things that we were grateful for. This was a good way of focusing my mind on the reasons I came here, and on the things that make me happy and give me hope.

Since today is the 27th of November, I would like to share with you 27 things that I appreciate about my life and my work in Haiti.

1) I am thankful for all of the doors God opened to get me here
2) And I am thankful for the call to serve in Haiti, to learn and to share what I know and what I do well.
3) I am thankful that God has blessed me with excellent health.
4) I am thankful for each and everyone of the 92 little ones who live at the baby house. Some are cute, some are strikingly beautiful, smiley, and energetic while others have attitude! They are all unique and utterly irreplaceable.
5) I thank God for showing me, before I met these children, how to celebrate every happy moment with them, and each milestone.
6) I am am thankful for all the healing I have witnessed. A particular toddler is on my mind. Her final HIV test came back positive this week, but she is well and thriving. It is really something to see this in a developing country,where children face so may health challenges, whether they are sick or well.
7) I thank my heavenly father for teaching me neither to dwell on the sad times, nor to run from them.
8) I am thankful that every emotion can be both right and good and that experiencing them all makes me whole.
9) I am thankful that God took Doubidson home; we could not heal him but God could.
10) I thank God for all the sick children who live.
11) I am thankful that the haitian nurses, the nannies and I are privileged to nurse many children back to full health.
12 I am thankful for every sick, premature and malnourished baby that finds their way to us, what ever the outcome of their journey.
13) I am thankful for our children's birth parents. For whatever reason, they couldn't raise them and they gave them up, in the hope that they would live a better life one day. I admire their honesty and selflessness.
14) And I am thankful, also, for all the families who have been led to adopt them.
15) I rejoice with the Haitian staff every time we hear that a new little one will be going home (to their adoptive families) soon. 'Li gen anpil chance,' they say (he/she has so many opportunities now.)
16) I am thankful that these families will be able to tell their children that they were loved and cherished while they waited to to go home, first by those brave birth parents who relinquished them into our care, then by the nannies and nurses and by the volunteers who worked with them every day, one-on-one.
17) I am thankful for the good, nourishing food that the staff, children and volunteers are able to enjoy.
18) I am especially thankful for the avocados; soft, creamy and delicious.
19) And I am thankful that our fresh fruits and vegetables are so fresh, never refrigerated, and eaten when they are perfectly ripe.
20) I am glad that everyone here is called Miss, Madame or Msye. Haitians are mannerly, respectful people. They are unique and special.
21) I especially like that I am called 'Miss See-zan'. Kreyol speakers find it difficult to pronounce my name and so they have adapted it. That makes me feel good. I don't quite know why. It is as though they are making me theirs.
22) I am thankful to have received some encouraging words from Dixie and from the head nurse in the NICU in the past week. These words came at a time when I was feeling discouraged, and I don't think they knew that.
23) I am thankful for the opportunity to encourage the Haitian staff. Their work demands a lot of love and a lot of patience. They work long days caring for the babies.
24) I am thankful for for the love and prayers of so many people at home and elsewhere. When I first came here. I asked them to pray that I would develop positive relationships with the Haitian nurses. God answered that prayer.
25) I am glad that I grew up in a loving and stable home. That has given me a strong foundation for my work here.
26) I am thankful that I miss home sometimes: the fact that I do means two things; my family and friends are important to me and I am in Haiti by choice. I am not running away from anything.
27) Tree frogs: Their soprano drives some visitors crazy. In the dark of the Haitian night, I find their cacophony soothing. I can't explain why.

"whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything is worthy of praise, dwell on these things." Phillipians 4:8).

Saturday, 22 November 2008

In His Fathers Arms

Our new baby did not look well on Monday. He was not tolerating his formula as he had been and he cried when ever we handled him.

As the days passed, his body began to swell and his skin became inflamed and broke down. He became upset when we offered him his feeds and soon after that, he developed diarrhoea and vomiting. He was irritable, and it was becoming more and more difficult to comfort him. We started him on antibiotics, we gave him regular pain killers, we changed his formula and we prayed.

On Thursday, his condition worsened. His stomach was distended and his mouth was ulcerated. Pain killers and anaesthetic gels were not helping and he was becoming dehydrated. We started an IV to give him fluids but it soon became apparent that his little body was failing. His breathing became laboured, and his body became bloated.

It was difficult for the nurses and nannies to watch his condition decline over the afternoon. There was nothing for it but to hold him and ask God to take away his suffering. I played some gentle classical music for him and told our little man that I desperately wished I could make it all better.

As I left for dinner, I promised him that I would come back to say goodnight. When I returned he was no longer crying. He held my gaze for a minute or so and his breathing settled into a slow and regular rhythm. It wouldn't be long now.

I held Doubidson and told him to look for his angel. His eyes were unfocussed but I didn't doubt that he was seeing things we could not.

Shortly after 8pm, he passed from my arms into the arms of his angel. He knew he was going to heaven to be with Jesus and he knew that we looked forward to meeting him there soon. I made sure of that.

We are left with a sense of sorrow for the suffering that this innocent baby endured. Yet I know that for Doubidson, all of this has faded away. He is is in his Fathers care now, and God will heal what we could not. This knowledge is more precious than gold and it is beautiful beyond hope.

Please pray for the nurses and nannies. Many of them are mothers and one lost a baby a few moths ago. This adds extra layers to her sorrow.

Update: Today, on the 7th of November 2012, I learned that Doubidson Junior probably had congenital Ichthyosis, a rare and often severe congenital skin condition, characterised by overgrowth of a tough, protective protein called keratin.The skin becomes so thick and tough that it forms scales that have been described as being like body armour. As a result of their very tight skin, babies with this condition develop deformities and are often unable to breath because their rib cages are constricted. Without meticulous skin care, deep cracks form in the skin. Babies with Ichthyosis overheat quickly,  dehydrate readily and have very high energy needs. They often die from severe skin infections or respiratory problems.

Monday, 17 November 2008

The Stork Came Twice!

The stork made two deliveries yesterday. This beautiful newborn boy came in at 9 days old. His admission weight was 5lb 4oz. This is normal by Haitian standards. Many Mothers in this country are malnourished and so it is not unusual for infants to be born with low birth weights. Our new little man won't be underweight for long though - I take great satisfaction in fattening up skinny babies and so do the nannies!

I had the great honour of naming this little fellow. I wanted to chose a name that would work in both English and Kreyol. After consulting with the Haitian staff, I selected a good biblical name that seems to suit him well.

The second baby was referred to GLA by an orphanage in Port-au Prince. This infant is a month old and weighs 3lb 6oz. On the advice of medical staff at a hospital in the city, the baby's Mum had fed her formula milk to try to get her weight up. The baby developed diarrhoea and vomiting, probably because her family did not have access to safe drinking water to prepare the formula.

The baby's Mother is staying at GLA with her daughter. The baby was emaciated and severely dehydrated when she came in. Under the guidance of our orphanage Director, I successfully sited an IV line. We are working on increasing the Mother's milk supply and re-establishing breast feeding. Please pray that this will be successful. Breast feeding will increase the baby's chance of survival when she returns home.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

This little man has been with us for a week. At 3 and a 1/2 months old he weighs just over 6lb. He has a severe dermatitis and although he is very thin, his face and feet are swollen. These are signs of severe malnutrition.

The baby also has special needs. His airway is restricted. He has difficulty feeding. He is unable to close his mouth or his eyes, his eyelids often turn inside out and his hips don't move as they should.

A local hospital refused to admit this little man. His desperate Mother heard about our orphanage and came seeking help. At GLA, the baby is getting the very best care we are able to offer. We have started him a special milk formula and various multi-vitamin and mineral supplements. With good nutrition and expensive ointments his skin condition has improved.

This is good to see, however, our new boy faces significant health challenges and he does not have access to the expert care that medically fragile children in North America and Europe enjoy. We don't know at this point what has caused his health problems and we don't know what his potential might be, or even if he will live.

We do know that our new angel likes to be held close and rocked and sang to. It is difficult to put into words how we felt in the NICU a few days ago when the baby reached up and touched my face. 'He plays!' one of the nannies said in wonder, and as the two tiny hands brushed over my mouth and cheeks, I asked God to give us the wisdom we need to nurture this very special baby.

Update: Today, on the 7th of November 2012, I learned that Doubidson Junior probably had congenital Ichthyosis, a rare and often severe congenital skin condition, characterised by overgrowth of a tough, protective protein called keratin.The skin becomes so thick and tough that it forms scales that have been described as being like body armour. As a result of their very tight skin, babies with this condition develop deformities and are often unable to breath because their rib cages are constricted. Without meticulous skin care, deep cracks form in the skin. Babies with Ichthyosis overheat quickly,  dehydrate readily and have very high energy needs. They often die from severe skin infections or respiratory problems.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Please Pray

Late this morning, a 3 story school building collapsed in Petion-ville. Over 500 children aged 5-18 were in class at the time.

The news reached us over the radio. There was a hushed silence in the NICU as our minds and hearts struggled to grasp the magnitude of the tragedy. Tears sprang into our eyes as a distraught mother wailed 'my child, my child'.

She might not know, even now, whether her little one is dead or alive. 30 are known to have died and the death toll is rising by the hour.

The UN and the Police are on sight. They don't have rescue equipment. Ordinary Haitians are digging through the rubble with shovels and with their bare hands. Ordinary Haitians are co-ordinating efforts to get water to those who are trapped. Many have gathered to pray in the vicinity of the school. There is so much to admire about the Haitian character.

My mind is drawn back to another school tragedy that happened 1/2 a mile away from my own school desk in Dunblane, in 1996. A sea of flowers lined the route to that school. The eyes of the world were on us for months. I can't help but wonder if the world will remember the children and families of College Promesse Evangelique school a month, or even a week from now? Please pray for them.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Our Littlest Angels:Growing and Thriving!

As part of our strategy to limit the spread of chicken pox, the babies in the high care nursery are being kept apart from children who come from nurseries that have been affected by the virus.
That means that our NICU babies can not go up to the balcony where volunteers spend time doing one-on-ones.

It would be impossible for me to give all 15 NICU babies individual attention for an hour a day but I want them all to be stimulated and to feel loved and secure. I decided to work with small groups of children who were at similar developmental stages. I am delighted to report that all of these little ones are are happy and progressing well.A little angel learning to sit on the NICU balcony

Two of them have received individual attention for part of the isolation period. Both are around three months old and both were having trouble gaining weight. This is no longer a problem for "Ti Cherie" now that I have found a formula that agrees with her. She now weighs almost 11lb and is smiling, cooing and paying close attention to her care givers and to her toys. It was a privalege to work with her and to see her restored to good health. I can't help wondering why God placed this beautiful baby in my arms, or what she will become.

This little man was living full time with Miss Vicky for the 3 weeks that she was here. Miss Vicky is a nurse from the USA and she has volunteered at GLA many, many times. After her first night with her little charge, she commented that he had a strong personality, and so she was sure he would live! The young man in question has gained over a lb. He is still very small but otherwise, his development is right on track. I believe he has great potential. Look at those bright eyes!

It occurred to me a few weeks ago that the NICU boys are incredibly flirtatious.... and that their nurses and nannies (including yours truly) are encouraging that flirtatiousness! We smile, we wave, we kiss them, we make eyes at them, and we take full responsibility for the consequences!

Take this little boy for example (Shown above.) Isn't he gorgeous? He is the sweetest little boy in NICU. All my babies have fine qualities, but this is the sweetest. So mellow, so smiley.

These two boys are heart-breakers all ready. They applaud me when I come into NICU in the mornings. The little boy on the left has made great strides in his development and is now more or less on track with his European counterparts. The little boy on the right was very sick when I arrived a few months ago. Now that he is well again, he is getting bigger and stronger every day. These boys are bright and beautiful and I know that they will go on to do big things in their adoptive countries. How do I now? I just do!

I feel blessed to witness my babies growing and thriving. Many are sitting, cruising or showing signs of being ready to crawl when a few weeks ago it didn't look as though they were anywhere close to doing these things.

This young lady thoroughly enjoys sitting upright - it gives her a whole new perspective. Her personality stands out all ready. When she is happy her face lights up into the most wonderful smile; when she is mad she yells! She is strong and healthy in every way and I am sure that she will carry these qualities all te way into womanhood.

My babies have bright futures. They have been born in a troubled country, but I have a strong sense that the Lord's hand is on them and that they have been set apart. They are Haiti's hope and I pray that they will remain close to the God who conceived them in spirit millenia ago, and who intended them to be born here and now "for such a time as this."