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.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Over the past 3 weeks I have had no less than 12 migraine headaches. On Tuesday I finally decided to pray about it. That very day, the cycle broke. I am so glad; it is not easy to function with blinding pain, nausea and dizziness - try functioning and being pleasant when you are feeling that way. I'm sorry to say, I didn't always manage it.

There are constant reminders that God is still here, and still answering our prayers. Every morning, I ask him to give me everything I need to minister to these babies. He is doing just that. A few days ago when I was checking one of my fragile toddlers, I noticed he had a slight heart murmur. I asked a visiting Doctor to check it out. She confirmed that the child had a murmur but said it was very faint. Although the murmur might have been missed, I am very grateful that God gave me ears to hear it. In this little boys case, the most likely cause of his heart murmur is severe anaemia. His immune system is compromised by HIV infection and anaemia might have made him more susceptible to infection than he all ready is.

In the NICU, our miracle baby continues to grow and thrive. Jonathon is up to 4lb 5oz now. He is out of his incubator and off of his caffeine; apnoeas and bradycardia's are a thing off the past for this beautiful boy. Hallelujah!

Our little man had his first bath on Monday. His Mum was sure he would protest. We submerged his body in warm water, let him touch the end of the bath tub with his feet and moved him gently back and forth. To Mum's surprise, Jonathon was very content. We told her that all the time he was growing inside her, he had floated in warm fluid. He felt secure now because he was experiencing sensations that were comforting and familiar. It is such a blessing to experience precious moments like this; to be able to teach his Mummy about her preemie son's inner world, and about the things she can do to make him feel safe and loved, when, a few short weeks ago, we didn't think he would live.

Mum spends 8-9 hours a day in the nursery, caring for her baby. Jonathon is probably around 36 weeks old (measured from the time he was conceived) and so we are working on establishing breast-feeding. There really is no practical alternative to breast-feeding for this Mum and this baby once they go home. Jonathon is doing very well sucking at the breast and although his Mum is anxious about her milk supply, we can reassure her with absolute certainty that she is making plenty of milk. She is able to express 6oz at a time and Jonathon sucks around 2oz at each feed!

'Baby S' is in a stable condition, but she is still in need of urgent medical attention. Her head circumference has increased by a centimeter since we admitted her a week ago and the increased pressure in her brain caused several seizures on Monday and Tuesday, as well as an irregular heart rate. 'Baby S' is on anti-convulsant medications now. She isn't feeding well, but she is taking enough milk to stay hydrated.

It looks very likely that a surgeon in the States will agree to treat our angel. Our Haitian Paediatrician has offered to write letters in support of expediting the processes of obtaining a passport and visa for Baby S. God make this child's path straight and remove any obstacles that stand between her and your will for her life.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Blessed Assurance

At 4pm on Friday, Dixie Bickel admitted a 2 day old infant to the NICU. The baby was born by Ceasarean section on Wednesday evening and she has severe hydrocephalus. Her head measures 54.5cm at the widest point.

The average newborn baby has a head circumference of 35cm. Thankfully, infants have soft skulls and the bones are not fused. Our little lady has so much fluid around her brain that the sutures have been pushed wide apart. This limits the amount of pressure in our baby's head. An adult in a similar situation would die.

Without prompt treatment, though, our baby might be permanently brain damaged. She might not even live. She needs surgery to drain the fluid and prevent it from building up again. Unless there is a neurosurgeon who can do this in Haiti, and we do not believe that there is, Dixie will have to arrange to get our baby out of Haiti on a medical visa. While it is likely that GLA will be able to find a surgeon and hospital in the states where "Baby S" can be treated free of charge, it may take several weeks to obtain the visa. Baby S does not have several weeks.

This though, is not a time to despair. Shortly after Baby S arrived in the NICU, I cleaned her off; she had not been bathed since she was born 2 days earlier. As I was bathing her, there was a nudging in my spirit. Baby S had not come here for dignified care alone. As much as God wanted that for her, he had other things in mind. He sent her to GLA because he wanted her to live. And he knows that the faithful people of GLA, will pray his precious child back to good health; they have done it before.

The baby's family believe that their daughter was born with hydrocephalus because of a curse on their lives. In Haitian culture, "cursed infants" are tossed out onto rubbish heaps, or dropped down pit latrines.

Baby S's sisters, though, just could not allow that to happen. They had mercy on her. I believe the holy spirit moved them to bring her here and I am thankful that they yielded to that spirit, and no other.

Medically, Baby S's situation is urgent. I have never known a baby to be born with so much fluid on the brain. All ready, her limbs are stiff and her eyes are deviated downwards because of the pressure on her brain. She is having difficulty feeding. We need a miracle.

So please bombard the gates of Heaven on Baby S behalf and when you pray, pray in the knowledge that God wants to heal her. Petition him to give us his wisdom as we stand in the gap for this Angel.

While we wait for our miracle, and wonder how God will bring it to fruition, baby S is being loved and cared for the best way we know how. In the past 24 hours, I have watched Miss Esther hold Baby S on a pillow to splint the baby's head and protect her neck from the weight of that bulging head. I have seen Miss Cami, late at night, patiently feeding Baby S, time consuming and laborious though it may be.

I see these things and I know that the love of God is here, moving in this place.

Friday, 22 May 2009

A Fish Baby and People Who Fly by Night

Update: The whole of Haiti is talking about the Fish Baby. Two Radio Stations have reported the story. The only print version I have been able to source is in French.

A fellow blogger managed to get a photo of the 'fish'. See it for yourself and make up your own mind.

It was almost 5pm. I was burping a baby, and I was not concentrating on the nannies Kreyol banter. When they decided to draw me in, I was was two steps behind.

'Susan', Ginette began. There was mischief in her eyes.
'Yes Cherie?'
'Do you have Lougawou in Scotland?'
'Louga what?'
And I thought she answered, 'People who throw at night.' The Haitians around me erupted in laughter. I didn't understand the joke.

It turns out that in Haiti, there are people with supernatural abilities. These people are called Lougawou and they fly, but only at night. The nannies are not sure whether they practice witchcraft but they certainly are not afraid of these people. Oh, no. Apparently, the Lougawou are afraid of Christians. And no, Miss Susan, Lougawou are not the stuff off stories, they are real.

'Well ladies, I have never come across a Lougawou in Scotland or anywhere else. First you tell me that a woman gave birth to a fish last night, and now this!

'Oh Susan, you are so funny!"

'Me? Did I give birth to the fish?' The ladies were beside themselves when I said this. Tears were streaming down their faces and they were holding their sides absolutely convulsing with laughter. I just do not think I'm that funny.

It was on the radio between 7am and 8am, apparently. A Woman in Okays gave birth to a fish.
'Are you kidding me'
Are they kidding you.'
'Susan, my Haitian colleague replied tolerantly, 'they do not play around when they tell the news on the radio.' After all, I am a "Blan" and there are are things, she knows, I just can't be expected to understand. Even some very basic truths.

Did they think it was a baby whose leg weren't separated?
No, it was a fish, they said so on the radio.
So what did they do? Put the fish in the sea.
No they did not.
So the fish died then?

No, it is in the hospital. That's what they said on the radio.

I love Haitians so much!

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Bondye Kapab!

Today, baby Jonathon celebrated a great achievement. Against seemingly impossible odds, he has survived 28 days in this world.

Jonathon's was born around 10 weeks early. He too weak to suck and too small to keep himself warm. Unfortunately, dehydration and hypothermia were not his only problems ; as is often the case with premature babies, his brain was so immature that it could not regulate his breathing or his heart rate. Jonathan kept forgetting to breath and that was getting him into trouble.

To help out with this, we started him on caffeine a week ago. Caffeine (the very same caffeine that is in your morning cup off tea or coffee) is used in Neonatal Intensive are units all over the world. It stimulates babies brains to keep them breathing. Our little man quickly stabilized after we started receiving this medicine. His heart rate no longer drops and he has not had an apnoea for several days.

Jonathon weighs 3lb 3 oz and he came off of his oxygen yesterday. He is taking an ounce of Mum's milk or high calorie formula every three hours and he is sucking most of his feeds. Not only that but he actually wakes 2 hours and 55 minutes after his last feed, crying and flailing his arms and demanding a bottle! For a boy that isn't supposed to have been born for 6 weeks, that is really some thing!

His poor Mummy thought she had lost him when she saw us resucitating him last week. When we called later that afternoon with the happy news that we needed breast milk for her hungry boy, she told us we were trying to trick her. She 'knew' he was gone, she said. He wasn't breathing and he was very, very dark when she had seen him him. An exasperated Mme Bernard replied that Jonathon was very much alive and that he was crying for milk!

Two days later, it was obvious to the nurses and nannies that 'Mama Bebe' was distant from her infant son. Who could blame her? She had lost his twin and she had almost lost Jonathon twice. We had a very frank conversation with this lady. I acknowledged that she was frightened, but I told her that her that to have the best chance of growing strong and healthy, this tiny baby needed his Mummy's touch, to smell her scent and hear her voice.

Today, Mama Bebe loves holding Jonathon 'skin-to skin' on her chest. This is good way of promoting bonding between Mums and babies and it helps preemies regulate their vital signs and makes them feel secure. We undress Jonathon and place him under Mum's shirt. He is naked except for a nappy and a little cap. We cover Mum's chest with a blanket to make sure he stays warm. Jonathon is always contented when he is skin-to-skin with Mum and there is nothing sweeter than seeing them together this way.

Mum looked up at me anxiously when she was holding him today. 'Is he getting better?'
'Oh, yes, I told her. He gets a little better everyday.'
She smiled and shook her head. 'He was gone, that day.'
'I thought so too,' I confided.
She laughed. 'Bondye Kapab!' (with God, anything is possible).

Thursday, 7 May 2009

The Power of Prayer

On Tuesday night our premature baby developed an irregular heart beat and became very sick. I prayed with a passion I have never prayed with before. I told God that we all needed a miracle here and I believed he would give us one.

Dixie was in constant e-mail contact with a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner in the USA until after mid-night. Although she did everything she could to get Jonathon stable he was not doing well. All through the night, the Haitian nurses stimulated him to keep his heart rate up. By the morning, he was having Apnoeas and Bradycardia's (meaning that his heart rate was dropping and he would stop breathing for short periods.

Prayer requests were sent out to adoptive parents and GLA supporters all over the world but at 8:30, our tiny boy was exhausted. He stopped breathing and didn't start again.

For the next hour and a half, we used an ambu-bag to breath for him and gave drugs to stimulate his heart but at 10am, it had all but stopped beating. We stopped the resuscitation, feeling so incredibly despondent; God had taken another premature boy home on Christmas Day. I wanted this one.

The next prayer that went up was in desperation, and dare I say, anger. I knew God could heal Jonathon, I knew he had willed him to be born strong and healthy and I knew it was a miracle that our tiny boy had survived 2 weeks at home without any medial support and without being fed! So what was this?

And then, Dixie was there with a syringe in her hand. An asthma medication, she told me, that might stimulate the baby to breath. We started working on him again. No-one had any peace. No-one wanted to give up on Jonathon.

We got a heart beat. We gave the medicine. And seconds later, in the pause between the breaths I was giving, I saw the baby's chest rise. I stopped ventilating him. His chest rose and fell again and again. 'Ladies,' I almost whispered 'He's breathing himself.

And then he moved, and wonder of wonder, opened his eyes and looked at us. He put his hand over his eyes, settled into a regular heart rhythm and fell asleep.

Beyond recounting what happened, I am speechless. When I asked Mme Bernard if she thought God had given me my miracle, she beamed and told me, yes, she thought he had. And everyone agrees. Our God is good and he is faithful and he hears our prayers.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Joyful Beyond the Word

On Saturday, I met a baby at the gate. Dixie Bickel, our orphanage director assessed him moments later.

The baby weighed 2lb 10 oz. He was emaciated and parched: dehydrated to the point that his life was slipping away.

He had been one of a twin, born two weeks earlier, just a few miles from our gate. Mum explained that she had taken the babies to a Doctor, and that she had been told that since the boys were sucking at the breast, they would be OK.

She estimates that the twins were two months premature. Of course, babies born that early are not strong enough to suck at the breast. Jonathon's twin had died earlier that morning.

Jonathan was so cold that his temperature would not register on the thermometer and as we worked to stabilize him, we had to be honest with ourselves and with his Mummy; the baby's body was shutting down. He was suspended between this world and the next by a thread and although we were doing all we could, we couldn't promise that he would live.

Jonathan received oxygen and warmed IV fluids and he was placed in an incubator. Over the next three hours, his heart rate persistently dipped below normal limits , and for the next three hours, Miss Esther and I had to stimulate him constantly to keep that tiny heart pumping.

Although his vital signs stabalized, we had a very hard time getting the babies temperature up that afternoon and I continued to guard my heart.

Later that night, Jonathan got upset after a heel prick, and sucked vigorously on my finger to calm himself. I offered him a very small feed, which, he took gladly.

The next morning, our little man was alert and taking regular feeds. Almost 24 hours had passed since he arrived at our door, and I finally let hope into my heart.

'This baby wants to live,' I told the nannies. I think I will take his picture now.' They laughed, and asked why I hadn't taken his picture the day before. My Kreyol failed me; I didn't know how to tell them I thought it was undignified to photograph a dying child. I just told them I didn't want to take his picture until I felt confident he might live.

'Mme John (Dixie) told us that if he lived one day, he might live all the days of his life,' they said, looking at me expectantly.
'Yes, I told them, he might live to be a very old man!' And there was more laughter, joyful and spilling from the heart.

If I tell you this baby is infinitely precious to us, I'm sure you will understand, and, maybe if I tell you we are delighted when he looks our way, or that we go a bit ga ga every time he does does something cute - a sneeze for instance - you'll understand that too.

There are no words to express what is in our hearts; joy just doesn't come close. For my part, I can only say that in a situation in which guarding my heart meant restraining hope, I am awestruck, and so very thankful to be witness to this miracle of survival. All thanks and praises must go to God, through whom all things are possible!

I can't upload a photograph of our new baby; I have a new camera and I haven't installed its CD ROM on my computer. Unfortunately, the CD ROM is in Scotland (whoops!)