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.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Our Smallest, Sickest Babies

There are over thirty babies at the main house. With so many infants, all together in one place, it makes sense that sicknesses will spread quickly. Since young children's immune systems are not fully developed, it also follows that some infections will make a few of these little one's very sick.

Yet I am constantly surprised, even with good nutrition and the attention of trained nurses and nannies, to see just how unwell so many of our smallest babies become, and how often.

Perhaps Haitian babies are fragile because their mothers are malnourished? Underweight mother's certainly appear to deliver smaller babies, who are more likely to be anaemic. Perhaps it is the environment - warmer temperatures and higher humidity favour the growth of many microbes. Parasites, I am sure, explain many of the illnesses we see. And our babies have been separated from their mothers, which is a source of stress, that might make them susceptible to infection.

Take Luc - he is a month old. He was born prematurely, and initially grew and thrived at GLA. A week after he got here, though, he developed gastroenteritis. He became very dehydrated, and lost weight rapidly. Two weeks later, after a course of antibiotics and treatment for parasites, he is still having trouble tolerating his feeds.

He needs medications to control his vomiting and he can only tolerate small amounts of breast milk, or an expensive hypoallergenic formula. The diarrhoea is improving but he is not digesting his milk very well, and his weight is not increasing. We have sent stool samples for laboratory analysis but our paediatrician is at a loss as to what else we can do for this baby. He weighed 3lb 12 oz when he was admitted. his weight today is 3lb 10 oz.

Three month old Jude is also sick with gastroenteritis. His nanny called me to see him yesterday. He had had several episodes of watery diarrhoea. He was dehydrated and had lost a lot of weight. He was also refusing to feed. Today, Jude has been started on an antibiotic and he is being fed pedialyte and very small amounts of milk through a feeding tube.

Jude was the first child to be admitted to GLA following the earthquake. He was a low-birth weight baby, who was also severely malnourished and suffering from an infection that was causing seizures. His 19 year old mother initially planned to relinquish Jude for adoption. She has since changed her mind. Jude's mother is an orphan and does she is staying here at the orphanage, caring for her baby under the guidance of our nannies and nurses, who will teach her basic skills in hygiene and nutrition.

Today, something remarkable happened; it transpired that 9 weeks since she gave him up, Jude's mother is still producing some breast-milk! Breast milk is easy to digest and has lots of immune boosting cultures. We have convinced Jude's mother to express milk frequently, in the hope of building up a supply. We are calling this 'Jude's miracle'. It really is wonderful to be able to give him small volumes of his mother's milk to support his recovery, at a time when he needs it so much!

Baby Mikerline, our severly malnourished 3 month old girl who was admitted last night weighing 4lb 6oz is looking much better today. She is drinking 1.5-2oz of high calorie formula every 2 or three hours. This should be enough to enable her to grow and gain weight. She is sleepy, but when she is awake, she is very alert. Her mother had to go home to attend to her two year old son. We are feeling hopeful that Mikerline will survive.

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