In the fall of last year, a young woman named Gerdline walked into Hospital Saint-Nicholas in Saint-Marc, Haiti, carrying her baby son Rolensky. Only four months old, the boy was in a bad way: thin, breathing rapidly and lethargic, with a bluish tinge to his skin.
Little did Gerdline know as she crossed the hospital threshold that Rolensky’s heart was failing—because of a one-in-a-million blood vessel malformation in his brain. Nor did she know that the two of them would soon be on a plane to Boston, where doctors from across Boston Children’s Hospital would come together around her boy to save his heart by fixing his brain.
For most children in the United States, seeing a pediatrician is an annual event. For other children, especially those with more complex problems, visits to pediatric subspecialists are common. But in many parts of the world seeing any type of doctor, pediatric specialist or not, is simply impossible.
Ever year eight million children die in developing nations where there are few or no doctors and nurses trained in pediatric care. What’s worse, many of these deaths are preventable. Public health initiatives that increase access to clean water and improve nutrition have done much to contain these numbers, but more needs to be done to provide quality health care to children all over the world.
In honor of September being Disaster Preparedness Month, Children’s physician Deb Weiner, MD, PhD, looks back on her experiences as one of the early responders to the January 2010 earthquake that devestated Haiti.
I remember that we were extremelty busy from the moment our National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) International Medical Surgical Response Team (IMSuRT) arrived at the NDMS Gheskio field hospital in Port-Au-Prince, just days after the Jan 2010 earthquake. We were there to relieve colleagues from Children’s Hospital Boston who were currently there, including first-responders Drs. Gary Fleisher, David Mooney and Shannon Manzi from Children’s Hospital Boston.
As the only Pediatric Emergency Physician and Pediatrician on the relief team, my work began immediately. Before I even had a chance to grab my stethoscope, a frantic family arrived—each person carrying one extremity of a febrile seizing teenager who we ultimately determined had meningitis secondary to a basilar skull fracture sustained in the earthquake.
Michael Felber, RN, is a nurse at Children’s Hospital Boston. He spent two weeks as a medical volunteer in Haiti in March of 2010, in the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated the country. The following February he returned with a group of clinicians from the Global Surgery Program at Children’s, to work at a hospital founded by Partners In Health. While there he met a child who changed his understanding of the relationship between caregiver and patient. This is the second half of his story, for the first blog entry, click here.
It took two months to get Louveda to Boston. I communicated by phone and email with Sybill and David weekly. I was sure that it would eventually be possible to get her here, but I feared for her well being in the meantime. I work part-time at Shriners Burn Hospital, so I know of too many children who died waiting for their immigration paperwork to be processed.
I was working a night shift at Children’s Hospital Boston when Louveda finally arrived, accompanied by David. Jay, one of the nurses from the Children’s team, met her at the gate, brought her to the ambulance that would take her to Shriners Hospital. When I made my way to Shriners Hospital’s Acute Care Unit the next morning after my shift, I felt a wave of relief and gratitude when I saw her name on the board behind the nurse’s station.
She was frail but remarkably upbeat. It had been months since we had last seen each other, but she greeted me as if I had just stepped out for the afternoon, and told me she wanted to visit my house. She was clearly enjoying her new surroundings, but you could also sense her nervousness. She asked every new person she met if they were going to “take [her] skin.” She was still hugely protective of her wounds, and unsure of her new caregivers.