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, 26 February 2012

A Missed Call

As a little girl, I was absolutely convinced that I was a Princess. Although I was not a child with a birth line that could be traced back to the Scottish aristocracy, I was a real Princess none the less. I knew it.

I was lucky enough, you see, to have a Daddy who smiled wide and told me I was his Princess. He was born in a castle he told me (and that was actually true, my Nana and my great Aunt confirmed it). That made my Daddy the real  genuine article as a king, he told me, and I, his daughter, was therefore an actual Princess, not a make-believe one. The reasoning was tight and I was convinced. 

Knowing this, it wasn't a huge stretch for me to accept that I was my heavenly father's Princess too. And it's not a huge stretch to see that the sick and orphaned children of the world were also his, either.

Last week, I told you about a sickly HIV positive baby. By earthly standards, she is the lowest of the low. An orphan, carrying a communicable disease. Something that is believed to be shameful. But you see, there is a strange inversion on this earth, because the least of these will be the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven, and in eternity. Her sickness and her social status will have no relevance there and they in no way diminish her worth in God's sight.  She is his daughter. She is his Princess.

After two weeks of intense, hard work, trying and failing to re-nourish this little girl, her diarrhoea worsened and she refused even to drink. She was tube fed for two days, and during that time, we took the opportunity to re-nourish her aggressively. In those two days, she gained over a pound in weight and she re-gained her appetite. The diarhoea stopped. Our baby needed protein to heal her gut. She is now drinking protein shakes, with medical peanut butter and fruit blended in. She is standing in her crib, she is re-gaining her energy and mentally, she is very alert and she is playful. We engage in lots of silly games to coax a few extra spoons  of food into this baby. Sometimes she'll initiate the games, teasing me with an imaginary spoon and then erupting in a fit of laughter when I pretend to cry. The baby is a joy and a delight. The loose skin folds under her arms are filling out. Her skin has healed. She is cute, and I look forward to the day when the right family, the one God has chosen for her, take her into their hearts and their home and call her their Princess. She is already his. I don't see a sick orphan when I look at her, I see a child of God.

Do you have children? Were you cherished by a family who loved you? If so, it you should have some concept of the depth of the Father's love for his forgotten children in Haiti, and all over the world.

I've got a baby in the NICU. Her name is Malozie. She came to us a month ago. At the age of 7 weeks, she had some tough odds stacked against her; born to a mentally ill mother and a deaf father, she was in the swollen stage of malnutrition. Malozie was lucky enough to arrive at GLA just in time, before this devastating form of malnutrition damaged her organs too badly. I wish you could see her now, plump and smiling. She is a gorgeous, thriving baby, with long curled eye-lashes and baby soft skin and silky hair. You'd never know from just from looking at her now, that a month ago, her body was riddled with infections. She looks like a healthy baby. Maybe like yours.

Supposing she was your child. Supposing some disaster befell you and continents separated you from her and you got a call that she was was hungry and sick and without care. I know in that situation, you would call your most faithful friends and family, all over the world, You would say, 'I can't get to her, I need someone to go and be with her. I need someone to help financially with her care.'

Well, that is the call the Father puts out to us. 'Defend the poor and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and needy,' (Psalm 82:3). Notice that God is telling you, not asking you, and know that that the command comes from a place of deep love, and sorrow. He is saying go to them, they are mine. Over and over, we miss that Call

It's not my place to tell you what to do. Will you give? Pray? Go? That's for you to work out. I am praying that God will ignite a passion in you, in the church and among it's people, for these children. 

I can't upload  photographs this week to ingite that passion. Maybe that isn't a bad thing. 'Hear' what am saying. Close your eyes and 'feel' your way to what you are supposed to do, and then do it with your whole heart. 

Sunday, 19 February 2012

A Roll Of Thunder

I have a baby who is sick, so sick.

We drew some blood from her a couple of weeks ago. Although the results are not in yet, I know, deep down what they will show - that the HIV virus is winning the battle over this baby's body

At first glance she is pudgy, but a closer look reveals loose folds of dry, scaling skin. Yes, she has laid down some fat, but her muscles are wasting. Despite a high-protein, high calorie diet, this frail baby has been fading before my eyes. Ten days ago, her feet became puffy. She was in the early stages of kwashiorkor (protein-energy malnutrition). This is the form of malnutrition I dread the most. The puffy feet were a sign that this baby was not absorbing protein. If her blood protein levels were low, so low that her soft tissues were swelling with fluid, surely her immune system (it's cells are composed of proteins) had taken a hit. Oh Lord.

She is on one antibiotic for a chronic ear infection, another to prevent a severe form of pneumonia that often kills people with HIV, and a third for diarrhoea that she suffers from because her immune system is compromised, and because  the antibiotics she takes to combat the infections that have gotten past that compromised immune system have disrupted her normal gut flora. She has thrush in her mouth and is on long-term medications for that. She is on lots of nutritional supplements. Despite all of this, she is having fever spikes every other day. 

For now, the right medications, the right minerals and quality nutrition have reversed the kwashiorkor. She has gained 1/2 a pound this week, but this baby has a long road ahead of her. The baby's paediatrician and I are working in the dark, feeling our way forward, guessing at the facts, and experimenting with different approaches to the illnesses and conditions that afflict this little one. The lab results we need urgently, labs that will guide other diagnostic tests and treatments take 2-3 weeks to be processed.  Governmental and non-governmental agencies do fund HIV programmes, but usually, not for babies. The thinking in this resource-limited climate is that a child isn't proven to be HIV positive until they are at least 18 months old. 

I am praying that my little girl will survive until she is 18 months old, but that is not a given. 

I am endlessly frustrated, ever aware that the best I can give her is so much less than what she deserves. I can hold her dry, burning body, and coax her over and over to drink an enriched formula, or to have just one more spoon of medical peanut butter.In the back of my mind as I do that, I know there is no Pediasure left, and the high protein formula I do have will last maybe another two weeks, if I ration it. I will have to be creative with nutrition. 

She sees me come through the door and starts yelling to be picked up. She wants a Mummy. I can love her and I give her extra attention, but her birth mother chose adoption for her. Honestly, for this baby, a life in a loving family, in a country with a developed health care system is her best chance of living and thriving. I wish it didn't take so long to unite these children with their forever families. Orphanages, even good ones do not hold a candle to a loving family. 

This weekend, I heard rumblings. A roll of thunder in the distance. A rumour of political things that are happening, that might have a significant, and negative impact on Haitian adoptions. I am anxious about what this might mean for my baby girl, and for others like her. 

I love you, angel. I pray that my loving you will strengthen both of us. That loving will embolden everyone who fights the corner of the Father's forgotten children in Haiti. That loving will imbue the key decission-makers with godly wisdom, and with mercy.


Sunday, 12 February 2012

Marked as HIS

This is Miss Susan,' the Haitian lady said, introducing me, for the second time, to a tall, Haitian toddler, whose eyes were bright with fever. 'She is your other Mummy', the lady continued, 'She and Mme John had an utterly miserable time with you when you were a baby!'

The small boy listened quietly, barely blinking as his mother talked, and I laughed, not because she was joking or exaggerating, but because she was telling the truth, and because of the truth she hadn't told.

Jonathon came to us in the spring of 2009. Born over 2 months before his due date, he was several days old and had not received any medical care. Jonathon was icy cold and desperately dehydrated. Had it not been for some exceptional nursing skills, he would have been dead within minutes.

Over the days that followed, Jonathon's condition became more critical. He was resuscitated for over two hours one morning. Unable to revive him, we withdrew treatment so that I could hold Jonathon in his last minutes. Miraculously, he did not die!

I laughed as Jonathon's mother talked, because we did have a truly miserable time with Jonathon. Yet here he was, a big strong boy, ready to start pre-school in a few months. The struggle we experienced then made the sharpened the joy today; Jonathon had survived seemingly impossible challenges as a premature baby. 
We learnt that after he was discharged from our NICU, Jonathon had suffered life threatening croup on a visit to a town in the North of Haiti. He had required surgical intervention and had 'died' on the operating table.  Four times, we counted. Four times in less than 3 years, he had died and risen again.  I was soaring now. My baby was back, and he was T.H.R.I.V.I.N.G. I knew God's hand was on him. I experienced a surge of anticipation. I might never know God's plan for this child's life, but I knew Jonathon was marked as his

Sunday, 5 February 2012

An Auspicious Sign

Haitian society has a rich oral tradition that has given rise to hundreds of Kreyol proverbs and sayings, containing a wisdom that is simple, without being simplistic. There is depth also, to Haiti's folktales. I will call them folk tales, and not old wives tales, as they are known in the part of the world I am from, because there are few old women in Haiti to propagate these beliefs.

One of the newest arrivals to the NICU is 2 month old Steevenson. When I checked him over, the day he arrived, it was immediately obvious that Steevenson had very special hands, with 6 fingers and not 5 on each hand. 

This is a condition, known as polydactaly. It is my understanding that polydactaly can sometimes present with other congenital problems - malformations that babies are born with. I examined Steevenson top to toe, and found nothing to be concerned about. He was perfectly proportioned, with symetrical features. Everything was just where is should be. I shared these findings with the Haitian staff. 'Of course!' The mirth in their 'of course,' told me that the Haitian understanding of Polydactaly was quite different to my own. 

'Ate his twin?' I repeated. 'Really?' I was dressing Steevenson, in the back, upstairs hallway of the main house, in an area that has been set up for medical consultations. I was genuinely interested to hear the pediatrician's explanation: that many Haitian's do not believe that polydactaly is an anomoly, but rather an indication of a twin pregnancy. They believe that the baby with polydactaly consumed his or her twin, giving rise to a few extra digits, as a sign to the parents of this momentous prenatal event. 

Rather than be alarmed or concerned at the presence of a 6th finger, many people in this country look upon Steevenson with pride, believing that he is a strong boy, and a victor. I think that if I really believed Steevenson ate his twin, (and I don't) I might be a little bit wary of him! I am glad Haitians are not. Some cultures hold very negative beliefs about the presence of polydactaly.

 When the baby arrived, his 6th fingers, which were not fully formed and which were attached to the 5th fingers by a piece of skin, had been tied of with thread. The extra fingers, having lost their blood supply, have since shrivelled and fallen off.  The are gone, but no-one here will forget the auspicious sign that accompanied the arrival of this baby. They expect big things from him.
Steevenson is shown above in a purple butterly-monographed sleeper: tough and tender :-)