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.
This month marks the second anniversary of the January 2010 earthquake that devastated Port au Prince, killing more than a quarter million, injuring over 350,000, and leaving an estimated one million without shelter. Having gone there three times since then with groups from Children’s Hospital Boston to participate in the relief efforts, hardly a day goes by that I am not reminded of what I saw and lived during those weeks. Ranging from the truly horrible to inspiring and uplifting, many of the experiences were unlike any others I had had prior to setting foot in Haiti.
The first time I went was in May 2010 with a group that worked at the General Hospital along with Partners in Health. Conditions on the ground were utterly chaotic, and the disorganization made it difficult for foreign volunteers to work as we were accustomed to doing back home. This only added to our frustration at the discrepancy between the enormity of the challenges we faced and what we could (or could not do) to help. Many of those we cared for were suffering from the after-effects of injuries sustained in the earthquake, including chronic bone infections following amputations. A significant number of the children we saw were malnourished, their golden, frizzy hair and big bellies (often full of worms) helping us to make the diagnosis as soon as we saw them.
Others presented with routine medical and surgical problems which would have been straightforward in Boston but which were, in fact, very difficult to treat in Haiti because of the limited resources available and the lack of continuity of medical care. Perhaps the hardest of all was to repeatedly see children die from conditions and diseases which could have been prevented or treated back home, at little cost, and to be powerless to stop that from happening. On both the first and the second trips our teams cared for children who died from diphtheria. Previously widespread in the United States, it has not been reported here since 2003 thanks to widespread vaccination. However, diphtheria remains endemic in Haiti, and because most children do not have access to vaccinations, hundreds die from it there each year. …
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. …