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, 25 March 2012


Our newest boy in the nursery, 7 month old Mackenson has a cheeky [ornery] grin, that inevitably draws smiles both from his nannies and from our visitors.

Mackenson was transferred to us from another orphanage on the understanding that his right ear was  malformed and that this would make him difficult to place. We admitted him on Monday, exchanging puzzled glances as we searched for the malformation we had been told about. We found that the cartilage of his left and right ears formed a different shape. Foreign staff questioned Haitian staff. Did Haitians have any traditional beliefs about the shape of the ears?

Absolutely not we were told. Nannies, nurses and the Paediatrician were all in agreement. This did not constitute a malformation. One lady inviting us to examine her own ears, pointed out that her ear cartilage took on exactly the same shape as the new baby's did. others told us of friends and family whose ears were just the same as Macekenson's right ear. He was like many Haitians, they said.

And the fact that one ear looked different from the other. Was that important?

No! Haitian and foreign staff were in agreement. The difference was barely noticeable. Interesting but not really noteworthy.

A quick review of the documentation that came with the baby showed that he had initially been sickly at his previous orphanage. Not so now. He appears to be healthy and developmentally, he is on track for his age.

We are all made in the image of God, but not exactly like him. We are all different. All known personally to him. All needing his enduring love, his grace and his healing.

Soon Mackenson will be proposed to one of our waiting families who will, without reservation, accept him as their son. They will watch with keen eyes, taking notes of all the ways that he is special and all the ways that he is perfection.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Unfaded Beauty

We admitted a sibling set to GLA's main house late yesterday afternoon. This morning, with the help of a colleague, I recorded their vital statistics.

Anel, the little boy on the left of the photograph weighed in at 12lb 15.5oz and his length was 63cm. 
Wiseline, the little girl to the right weighed 13lb 14oz and measured 68cm in length.

Twins? The colleague asked.
She gazed up from the admission paperwork, looking mildly surprised. 
We have been told that Anel is three months old. Wiseline is his older sister. She turned two at the beginning of March!

Her growth is severely stunted, and she is moderately underweight for her height. When I heard that she could barely crawl, I groaned inwardly. Children like Wiseline, whose tiny bodies have endured years of malnutrition can be extremely difficult to rehabilitate. Often, they have chronic health problems,  remain delayed in their development for years, and go on to develop learning difficulties in school.  Now that I've actually seen her though, I am feeling optimistic about this tiny girl's recovery. 

Her general health is remarkably good and she has surprising strength in her spindly legs. She has a good appetite, a brightness in her eyes and an openness to her new caregivers that makes me hopeful. So long as this child doesn't have any medical conditions that have contributed to her malnutrition, the chances are that she will adjust well to orphanage life, and go on to grow and thrive. 

Malnutrition has a way of stealing so much from children. One thing I am sure you will agree Wiseline has not lost, is her beauty. That is unfaded. 

'I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten' Joel 2:25

Sunday, 11 March 2012


'This baby will give you trouble, Susan!' the Paediatrician declared.

Talia? That little bundle of baby girl sweetness? Trouble?

Sometimes when medical people talk about 'trouble' we are actually describing a patient who presents us with a clinical challenge.

Talia had a deep red colour when she arrived at God's Littlest Angels, the day before. She was 13 days old and the whites of her eyes were yellow. This was a sure sign of jaundice - a condition that occurs when bilirubin levels rise. Bilirubin is a pigment in red blood cells. Sometimes, newborns' livers cannot excrete bilirubin in the first week or so of life and the rising levels of bilirubin stain the skin. Jaundice has to be monitored - high levels of bilirubin can cause brain damage.Although I was concerned to see Jaundice in a 2 week old baby, wondering if this was caused by something other than just an immature liver, by the time the baby saw the Paediatrician the next morning I was not as worried as the Doctor.

 In early December, our orphanage Director arrived in Haiti with donated equipment from a US based medical supply company called Children's Medical Ventures. One of the pieces of donated equipment was a transcutanous bilirubin monitor. This made it possible for us to immediately screen baby Talia, using a painless test to determine whether her  jaundice level was an immediate threat to her health. We already knew that it was not. We had already tested a few drops of Talia's blood, and determined that she had a very high level of red cells in her blood. We had also done a bedside test that screened Talia for signs of infection. That test had been negative.

Over the days that followed, we monitored Talia's bilirubin levels, and observed her carefully. The Paediatrician was pleased by my report that the bilirubin levels were falling, and that Talia was waking for her feeds, tolerating them well, breathing normally and peeing and pooping regularly. The most likely cause of this baby's high bilirubin was delayed clamping of the umbilical cord. The extra cells would have made her blood more viscous and this could have caused breathing problems, as well as damage to her brain and kidneys.

All the signs indicated that although Talia had not had access to medical care, she hadn't suffered any complications. Her condition was temporary and it was resolving. I peeked at her, sleping peacefully in her box crib. I sighed softly, letting the last remnants of the concern I had harboured for her slip away. I am a Paediatric Nurse. I see lots of sick newborns. Lots of newborns with problems. It is always a blessing and a relief to look upon a  beautiful healthy baby.

Talia is no trouble at this point in her life ;-)

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Mitigating the Hurt

There are so many things I will never know about the lives our babies lived before they came to God's Littlest Angels. Those unknowns trouble me sometimes. People tend to assume that early traumas, the kinds experienced by pre-verbal infants are forgotten, and therefore unimportant. I think Mothers of adopted children have long come to know, what science is now uncovering - that early experiences of stress and trauma change the structure of babies brains, forging neuronal pathways that trigger a stress response to particular triggers, well beyond infancy, and even into adulthood.

I can make guess about the things our babies have endured from the womb - exposure to malnutrition, to their mother's stress hormones, and  possibly to toxic drugs. Many are then born into impoverished families, in crowded, unsanitary conditions, with inadequate food and shelter, and without access to medical care. They go on, one way or another, to lose their families, and find themselves in an orphanage.

In the past week, two small infants were admitted to the NICU. Oddison is a month old and he has a very low tolerance for discomfort, crying in short, piercing bursts. and trembling with anxiety whenever he is hungry or needing a diaper change. For now, he is unable to trust that his needs will be met. His mother told us that he has lost a significant amount of weight since birth. She was unable to produce breast milk and was only able to afford one can of formula for him. After that, she fed her tiny infant sugar water. He had severe diarrhoea when he arrived and needed to be re-hydrated intravenously. In his malnourished state, he became fluid overloaded on that IV and developed a mild case of heart failure.

I wish I could fix all his hurts, and make up for everything that has been lacking in Oddison's life. Of course, I can't, but at GLA, we can provide a good standard of medical care, and adequate nutrition. There will be people to care for him and hold him around the clock.Neuro-behavioural scientists tell us that stress and it's affects can be mitigated. I hope that we will earn Oddison's trust and confidence. If we do, there is every reason to believe that he will begin to thrive here. Now, having recovered from his diarrhoea, he is ravenously hungry. 

Daphka arrived yesterday. I haven't gotten to know her yet. Our Director tells me that hers was an urgent situation: she was living with her mother on the streets. Although I have been up to the NICU several times to assess Daphka, I always find her sleeping. First impressions - she is well-filled out and has shiny black hair and beautiful clear skin. Not a single worry line creases her brow. I hope that means  she doesn't carry too many hurts.