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, 20 September 2009

Like Springtime

Ti Fi,

Ill-equipped though your grand-father was to raise a baby, he did not visit the magistrate for a full two months after your Manman died. Surely, his steps were leaden on the way to the court that day. There must have been some level of struggle in his mind, between the desire to hold fast to you, his tiny grand-daughter, and the need to give you up for your own sake. If there had not been such a struggle, why would he have waited?

You arrived at our home, sick and emaciated, parched in body, and with eyes that betrayed a heart, equally parched by grief. A beautiful flower, scorched and uprooted. That was you, Ti Fi. And so I planted you in the garden of my own heart.

There was no relief in her countenance. There were gentle hands to tend to her, there was treatment for her dehydration and there were medications for the fever and infections that wracked her little body. Still, she refused to feed, and was in a state of decline. She needed love, I knew, and an abundance of it. Dixie was in the States with Vivianne, a key member of the Haitian staff. I was tired from the additional duties I had taken on, and yet, a still small voice urged me to open my arms and draw Ti Fi close. And that is how she ended up in my room.

Sure enough, within a matter of days of moving in with me, Ti Fi smiled. They say that the best prognostic indicator (of survival) in a severely malnourished child is a smile. Here it was; hope born in both our hearts.

As the days and weeks passed, I saw a rejuvenation in Ti Fi's spirit that spoke of the miracle of God's creation; the capacity of a child's heart to heal. New growth as in springtime. She began looking at the NICU nannies and nurses with wonder and she became very interested in toys and in her surroundings. Soon, she she found a voice. 'Ah haa haa' (the cutest giggle), Hi nah (a greeting), 'aaah' (to express her delight) and 'hey' (this one is to get our attention.)
Did I mention that she sings too?
She found the strength to sit unsupported, when, a few days before she couldn't even hold her head up. Within the month she was not only weight bearing on her legs but she was "climbing" from my lap to the top of my head, beaming and triumphant.

Yet love alone has not been enough to restore this precious girl's broken body. She has had an NG tube for 6 weeks now, much longer that I am comfortable with. It seems that Ti FI has health challenges, the extent of which we do not fully understand at this point. She becomes breathless when she sucks her bottle or eats from a spoon. Her heart races and she sweats. She is only able to tolerate formula that is comprised of partially broken down proteins, and she must be feed small regular volumes if she is to hold her feeds down.

Her weight gain is slow, even now that the diarrhoea and vomiting are under control. If early indications are anything to go by, it may take three times longer to recover this baby from her malnutrition than I would have hoped.

More time, more work, more patience than I thought I had. More laundry and more frustration than I thought I could deal with. And looking at this precious girl, who has suffered so much sickness, loss and pain, and who is so absolutely brimming with joy, how can I possibly say that I am overburdened? What reason have I to complain?

'I am he. I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you...' (Isaiah 64:4).

Ti Fi weighed 8lb and 40z on admission. Today she has gained 3lb. She is becoming chubby, and she is a beautiful, delightful baby who absolutely has my heart.

Ti Fi with 'M' (left). He is my boy, she is my girl and M has whole heartedly accepted Ti Fi as his baby. They are so cute together. He is very protective and will not allow the other children to touch her. He points out a great many things of note to her. Ti Fi, much to M's delight is smiley and responsive.
She seems to have turned a corner this weekend; I haven't used the NG tube at all. She needs continuing prayer for healing. So Lord, heal this precious baby of ours according to your perfect will, and give her for every sickness, every sorrow and every pain she has suffered, a double portion of joy.


Saturday, 5 September 2009

An Update On My "Problem Children"

Sandia Laura's family were unhappy that we would not be able to care for her here. Before we could organise a car to take them to a hospital, her 16 year old Mother left with the baby. We heard that they kept Sandia at home for a day. Somehow, she ended up in General Hospital in Port Au Prince. We do not know what her diagnosis was or what kind of care she received. What we do know is this; a few days ago, Sandia Laura passed away. It is difficult to understand why such a tiny baby should suffer so much in the few days she lived on this earth. We are comforted by the hope that she exchanges all this pain for an eternity in Heaven.

Baby Mike became very sick a few days into his stay with us. His abdomen was distended, his colour changed to a deep red, and he began bleeding from his mouth and nose and under his nails. By the time he became ill, we had received devastating news from his Aunt.

Baby Mike's Mother had been carrying twins. Her Labour had progressed so rapidly, that, caught unawares, she had delivered Mike into the bucket she used as her toilet. She was unable to deliver the second twin. She went to a hospital, where she had a caesarian. It was too late for Mike's twin, who died in utero. Mike's Mum died the following day.

We contacted a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner in the USA. She felt that Mike was suffering from an overwhelming infection, possibly listeriosis, which his Mother would have contracted from eating contaminated food.

We learned that with treatment, there was a 20-40% chance that Mike would die. To our great distress, we were unable to site an IV line to give this baby the fluids and antibiotics he needed. It was late at night and there was nothing for it but to provide unconventional care. I gave antibiotics by injection. I then placed a tiny needle under his skin and connected it to a bag of IV fluids. IV fluids were slowly infused overnight. It was not ideal but fluid was gradually absorbed into his system.

The next morning, Mike was alive and crying loudly. We were so impressed by our courageous boy, and as you might understand, desperate to do everything that we could to save his life. Our Paediatrician arrived and managed to start an IV. Things were looking up. The Doctors were optimistic that he might live, and Mike definitely had fighting spirit.

Unknown to us, there was trouble brewing. At home, Mike's Grand-Father was demanding that the women of the family go to GLA and insist that we return his Grand-son to them. We explained that Mike was critically ill, and that he would die without oxygen,. IV antibiotics and fluid. We explained that he was too small and weak to survive out of the incubator, but that in a few short weeks, things might be very different. There was no talking with them. No reasoning.

When they returned the next day with Baby Mike's Father, GLA's hands were tied. We re-iterated to them that Mike would die, but they were insistent that they wanted him home. The Haitian nurses were obliged to remove the IV, take off the oxygen prongs, wrap the baby warmly and hand him over to his family, all the while knowing that death was inevitable for him now.

One of the staff tells me that Mike's parents are not from this area. Their home town is a Voodoo stronghold. Haitians are deeply spiritual people and it is likely that the family believe that an evil spirit caused the death of the Mother and Mike's twin, and that this spirit was still attached to Mike. This being this case, they would have no faith in the power of Western medicine to change a thing.

Mike's Aunt lives a few hundred yards from our gate. Minutes after the family left, as I sat on the NICU balcony cursing his family and grieving for Mike and for them and their country, with its spiritual shadow lands fir its people bound by beliefs that hurt and harm, the steady beat of traditional drums began sounding...

Baby D's blood work indicated that she was suffering from a severe bacterial infection. We never did find the source. As the days passed, her colour improved and her heart rate slowed. We kept her on a strong antibiotic for two weeks, so that we could be as sure as we can be that the bacteria that made her sick has been eradicated from where ever it was growing. Baby D is back to her usual happy, smiling self. We will continue to watch her closely.

And Ti Fi.... We have had a hard few weeks, but she has turned a corner.Hers is a story for another day.