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, 23 October 2011


I had a moment on Friday. I spotted one of those Anne Geddes shots - a beautiful, perfectly proportioned premature baby, cradled in her father's hands. My mind drifted upstairs to baby Louna, scrawny and rat-bitten in her incubator and tears sprang to my eyes. She wasn't exactly Anne Geddes material. I was jealous for Louna. I wanted for her, what that baby in the posed shot had. A well nourished mother, excellent health care, a safe, nurturing environment. It wasn't a lot to ask for, but she has lost out on all of these things.

Louna is a very stressed infant. Her premature birth in Site Soleil and the struggle to survive in that noisy and chaotic environment have overwhelmed her. Now, even nappy changes are stressful for her. Researchers have found that pain and stress can affect premature babies brain development well into childhood. Thankfully, we have found that Louna is quickly soothed by swaddling.

Baby Sarafina, I am told, has quite a fan club outside of GLA, but she wasn't really Anne Geddes material when she was born either. A few days after she arrived, this low birth weight baby, who was vomiting and who appeared to have lost weight in the days since her birth, was unable to keep any of her feeds down.

On a hunch, I decided to try a continuous feed, through a feeding tube. I am glad that I did that because Sarafina developed swelling in her feet, that soon spread to other areas of her body. We learned that this fragile newborn had developed a mild case of protein-energy malnutrition. I was full of dread. We have previously lost three tiny infants to this particularly debilitating form of malnutrition. Babies under three months do not tend to survive kwashiorkor, since their organ systems are not developed enough to withstand the damage that protein deficiency causes.

Sarafina was able to tolerate continous feeds. She beat the odds, making her my youngest survivor of Kwashiorkor. She is happy, contented and very alert now and I am so grateful that her mother brought her to us in time. For Sarafina, being admitted to GLA at just that point in the course of her illness, and being carefully re-nourished at that critical time, was life-saving.

Alaine was pretty, when she arrived, compared to most of the premature infants that we see at GLA but she was no Anne Geddes baby. Alaine came from the mountains above Cazale almost 3 weeks ago. She was a late-preterm infant, born in the 8th month of her mothers pregnancy. She was very small and skinny for a baby born at that gestation and we were concerned to hear that she was her mothers 18th child, and that all of her brthers and sisters had died as young infants.

Initially, Alaine was treated for apnoea and she was weak, very sleepy and difficult to feed. It became apparent around a week after she arrived that Alaine had problems with her airway. She needs a constant flow of compressed air through a nasal cannula to keep her airway open so that she can breathe easily, sleep well and suck from a bottle. It seems that a little bit of reflux was making her breathing symptoms worse; milk was refluxing up her oesophagus during and after feeds.

Thankfully, we are able to treat her reflux and Alaine is filling out nicely and really thriving. We hope that she will grow out of her airway problems but it is likely that she will need nursing care for a very long time.

Anne Geddes may not chose these girls as her models, yet, but I think they are beautiful. I have to stay mindful that whatever their earthly fortunes have been, or will be, they are daughters of the most high king, true Princesses who will recieve a rich inheritance.


Carla said...

They are TRULY beautiful! Thanks for updating on these very special girls/princesses!

Jane Blannin-Bruleigh said...

Susan, I would much prefer your amazing photos and descriptions to the ones of Anne Geddes! Her pictures are carefully posed, with perfect lighting and special effects. Your pictures are of babies born in harsh conditions who are being loved back to health by the good medical care of GLA and the love of the staff and the blessings of your NICU. These sweet little ones are true princesses!

Marie said...

Beautifully written! They are princesses indeed!

Anonymous said...

Oh but God gives BEAUTY for ASHES