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 June 2010

A Wonderful Thing

In April, I was privileged to have the opportunity to travel to Pennsylvania, in the United states, where Heather Maeding and the NICU staff at Saint Luc's Hospital trained me to use bubble CPAP. Last week, that training was put to good use, when Wooson came to our gates with breathing problems that were related to his prematurity.

The moment Woodson was placed on CPAP, the battle to breathe was over. The system supported his airway and his lungs with a blend of pressurized air and oxygen, delivered through a nasal cannula.

Day by day, Woodson's lungs matured. He required less oxygen, and less pressure to support his breathing and he was getting bigger and stronger.

'He's so contented,' one nanny observed, 'and he's really filling out.' Over the years, GLA has cared for dozens of premature infants, and our senior Haitian staff are accustomed to the range of struggles these tiny, fragile babies face. Usually, a baby like Woodson, born two months prematurely, small for his age and without medical support for over a week, would require oxygen and an IV. They would have to work hard to breath and they would not tolerate feeds very well. They may not even survive.

Woodson though, got CPAP. It allowed him to rest. The energy he would have had to use to breathe was used instead to digest his milk and to grow. He gained 9 ounces in his first week with us, bringing his weight from 2 lb 9 oz to 3 lb 2 oz.

This morning, Woodson came off of his CPAP. We are pleased to have been able to give him just the support he needed, when he needed it.

The nurses and nannies at GLA are in absolute agreement about one thing - this 'new apparatus' is a wonderful thing.

Seeing is believing.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Keeping A Miracle Alive

Just before mid-day yesterday, a tiny 2lb 9oz miracle came through our gates.

Woodson was born 9 weeks early, at home. His birth was not attended by a Doctor or a midwife, and the baby survived for 10 days without any medical care.

He was slightly dehydrated and hypothermic when he was brought up to the NICU at God's Littlest Angles, but he looked good......... until we warmed him up.
Once his temperature normalized, his body needed more oxygen to function. Woodson stopped breathing several times. His oxygen levels fell, along with his heart rate and he became agitated and irritable.

The muscles in his chest wall were weak and his lungs were not fully developed. His body just wasn't strong enough or mature enough for the work of breathing.

Thankfully, God's Littlest Angles has been blessed by with a low technology system called bubble CPAP, which provides respiratory support to sick and premature infants. Within minutes of being hooked up to this apparatus, Woodson was breathing easily. It was deeply affecting to watch this struggling infant instantly settle into a regular breathing pattern.

God's strength and grace sustained this baby for the past 10 days. As I watch Woodson sleep peacefully tonight, I am mindful, just as I was yesterday, of God's mercies; they are new every morning.

Woodson is the first baby to benefit of CPAP at GLA. How amazing and wonderful to have the means to keep a miracle alive.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Poko Konvete?

(Not Converted Yet?)
It is a running joke in the NICU at God's Littlest Angels, that some of our little darlings have not yet found the Lord. Exceptionally loud and demanding infants are likely to draw (mock) knowing looks, along with nods of understanding that are shared between their nannies. These Haitian ladies will then declare, with quiet, mock solemnity 'Li Poko Konvete,' meaning that the little one in question has not yet converted to Christianity!

Our newest baby arrived just over a week ago. He is recovering from malnutrition and gastroenteritis and was thoroughly miserable during his first days at GLA. Although he allowed us to calm and soothe him, I noticed something, that to christian ladies like ourselves was definitely cause for (tongue-in-cheek)concern.

'Yes Susan?'
'There is a problem with this boy,' I told her, 'The kind that requires prayer.' Ginette nodded. It went without saying that the baby needed prayer. He was new, sick, fragile. She was surprised and pleased, though, by my specific prayer request. 'Ginette, when I sing church songs to him, he gets agitated........but when I sing Scottish lullabies that are not quite so wholesome, he quietens!

News quickly spread, and within minutes, we had a plan of action: when Pastor Brandon comes this week to lead devotions for the Haitian staff, the new baby will attend, in the arms of a nanny. The group will then pray for a religious conversion in Louvensky's life.

'Yes, just the thing to do ladies,' I told them, and an onlooker would have judged me to be sincerely pleased with the wisdom of our solution.
'Just the thing,' they agreed.

I love our nannies, and I love our humour. It is so Scottish - we used to share jokes just like these at church, during infant baptisms. Apparently, since I did not start the conversion jokes in the nursery (really, I didn't), the humour is also very Haitian!

Sunday, 6 June 2010

History Repeats Itself

It is often said that history has a way of repeating itself. I have seen that this is true. We should be able to learn from the mistakes of the past - mistakes that we make, or mistakes that others make. Yet sometimes, history is infuriatingly difficult to overcome.........

Someone asked me a week or so ago, what we at GLA were doing to protect baby Peterson from his young mother, who, freely admitted to slapping him.

In Europe and North America, social workers swoop in and swiflty remove infants from parents who mistreat them in this way. In Europe and North America, children have rights. In Haiti, by contrast, medical staff, magistrates, police, and school authorities must work within a legal framework in which the rights of parents supersede any rights that their children might have.
In Haiti, it is socially unacceptable to hit a baby, but it is not illegal.

God's littlest Angels is operating in a country in which a parent may, at any time, remove their child from our care, even if they are very sick, even if they will die without the medical care that we provide.

The 'system' may not always gel with our own moral frameworks. We may not like it, but we are not here to change it. Rather, we are here to serve the children and families of Haiti. We are here to stand alongside them and to show them the love of God.

Peterson' s mother tells a sad story of extreme physical abuse and emotional neglect at the hands of a mother who beats and verbally assaults her to this day. She tells us that her mother beats her younger siblings when they refuse to eat. She says that she understands now, that Peterson is too young to respond to punishment. I am not fit to judge Judith. How can she be expected to provide 'appropriate 'care and nurture to her baby boy? Who can ever give what they have never received? Our judgement cannot help Judith or her son.

We aim to influence her parenting by example. We hope that when she sees us providing gentle, loving care, she will model that. Judith watches us closely. She wants to learn to care for her baby. She says that she would never give him up. She works hard at GLA, and is quick to offer assistance wherever she can - mopping floors, folding clothes, taking used bottles and crockery and cutlery to the kitchen. She wants desperately to please us.

Her son's progress in frustratingly slow. Even for those of us who are accustomed to working with babies who have special medical needs, Peterson is a challenge. Daily, I remind myself of Sicelo, a severely disabled boy I cared for in South Africa. Daily, I remind myself that I was able to teach him to drink from a cup. Daily, I remind myself that if Peterson does have some neurological problems, they are no-where close to Sicleo's. Daily, I tell myself that we are making progress with Peterson: the feeding tube is out, gradually, his weight is going up, and he is now able to sit for short periods, unsupported.

We hope that as Judith sees these encouraging signs, she will develop the patience that she needs to take over her son's care. For now, we continue to guide her, monitor her, support her and pray for her.