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, 24 April 2011

About A Boy

Over the past few weeks, I have been working on individualised care plans for babies who are at particular risk of falling behind in their development. This has meant paying very close attention to children who were born prematurely, or who are, or who have previously been malnourished or chronically ill. Wadley came to us in February. He was three years old and he weighed 16 1/2 lb. I wrote about him in my online journal, soon after he arrived;

"Wadley is extremely underweight. His growth is stunted and his hair is orange. He is weak. He is anaemic. His bones are soft from severe Vitamin D deficiency. His liver is damaged from years of malnutrition. His immune system is compromised from lack of protein, and, he has contracted an antibiotic resistant ear infection.

My heart ripples as I watch him shuffle across the nursery with a hunched back, and bowed legs. I hurt, every time I stick him with a needle; Wadley doesn't react. There is no sound from him. His nose wrinkles, slightly. Otherwise, his expression is unchanging. It is frightening to watch this lack of emotion. It is a sign of severe physical and emotional deprivation. Wadley has learned that all the crying in the world will not make a difference in his life."

With relief, we have watched Wadley begin to express both joy and pain, in ways that were emotionally healthy. The heart and mind of a child can be remarkably resilient. Traumatised, scarred, and atrophied, they have the capacity to sprout and blossom at the first shower; everyday acts of caring that meet his needs, the light of love's smile, the warmth of its embrace

I am not naive. Wadley is stronger today. He has gained 9lb in 2 months. He is making progress, but he continues to show significant delays in his development. My assessment of him confirms my general impression; physically and cognitively, he is performing at a 12-18 month level, while socially and emotionally, he behaves like an infant. Only now, is Wadley beginning to understand some basic verbal and non-verbal ques: a harsh word vs a joyful whoop, a smile vs a frown, and, what these thing tell us about what someone might be thinking and feeling, and how we should respond. He isn't even sure what the word, 'no' really means.

Seeing this on paper and playing out in the nursery, I hurt for my happy-go-lucky little man, who is so eager to learn but who still lags behind our oldest babies. Wadley is a boy who desperately wants to engage with us; we communicate in a language of gestures, expressions and subtle nuances that are implicitly understood by children half his age. Wadley, though, does not understand them.

Even as I hurt for him, I celebrate each sign of progress: that he cries when someone he likes leaves the room; that's a sign that he wants to attach to us. That I saw him co-operate with a two year old in 'pretend' play the other day: that means that his imagination is growing. Co-operation is an age-appropriate behaviour. Given the delays Wadley shows, this is exciting to see!

Realising how deeply his brain and body have been traumatised by the deprivation he has experienced, we are at least a little bit more aware of what Wadley is going to need from the nursery staff and his volunteer over the next few months. With focussed attention, I hope that he will progress in his development.

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