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. …
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.
In February of 2011 I spent a week working with a Children’s team in the village of Cange, in Haiti’s Central Plateau. The region has been served by Partners In Health and its Haitian sister organization Zanmi Lasante for over 25 years. Together they have built a hospital and a multitude of programs to improve health, education, agriculture and social services. Our goal was to collaborate with PIH and Zamni Lasante, in their development of surgical programs and medical education for Haiti.
Our first patient was Louveda, a sweet and articulate 12-year-old girl with severe burns on her thighs and abdomen from a kerosene lantern accident two months earlier. Both her parents had died in the past year so her 14-year-old sister, Anita, was her primary caretaker. (Since Louveda’s accident, the two girls lived at the hospital, sharing a single bed.) She was wrapped in wet, stained bandages. She tried to remain as still as possible because it hurt her to move. She said it was hard to rest because her bandages were hot and itchy.
With the help of the Haitian clinical staff we arranged for sedation in an operating room so we could change her dressings and assess and debride her wounds. We brought a stretcher to her bedside, and in a calm and mater of fact way she asked, “Am I dead?” It occurred to me that in the two months she had been in the main surgical ward of the hospital, an open room with about twenty other patients, she had seen others die and be removed on stretchers. And it was realistic to assume that she too would not survive her injuries. Despite it all she seemed calm. In the operating room she smiled and held my hand as she went to sleep.
While she slept we cut her bandages off with scissors. The smell and wounds were overwhelming. Her upper legs and stomach were covered with deep, angry red wounds. There was a pressure ulcer on her left ankle, nearly exposing bone. We washed her wounds and put her in a clean gown and fresh bandages. As the initial shock of her injuries wore off, we began thinking of a long-term plan for her.
The good news was she was medically stable, but that wouldn’t last. She was anemic and malnourished. (A common complication for burn patients because they tend to have greatly elevated nutritional needs.) Her body was compensating physically, but would not be able to do so indefinitely. Her breathing and pulse were too fast and her muscles and skin were wasting and breaking down. She needed nutritional support, blood, physical therapy and help for emotional trauma. And mostly she needed skin grafts to close her wounds. Her injuries were extensive but treatable, but not with the resources available in Cange at this time. …
Sunday is Father’s Day. In early anticipation of this special occasion, here’s a story about how a father’s humanitarian efforts has inspired his daughters to follow in his footsteps.
When Sarah Hartman was 14, she took an unusual spring break. Unlike a lot of her friends, who were heading south or hitting amusement parks with their families, Sarah and her father went to Cambodia to help secure housing for a young woman who lost her leg in a landmine accident. Sarah’s father, Lester Hartman MD, serves on the Board of Directors for Children’s Hospital Boston’s Pediatric Physicians Organization, and for years had been actively involved in a global effort to ban and unearth landmines across the globe. He wanted his daughter to understand the nature of his work abroad, so in 2005 he invited her to accompany him to Cambodia, in what some might call a very extreme version of ‘Take your daughter to work day.’ Sarah accepted her father’s invitation, and the experience stirred deep emotions in the young girl.
“My mother and father have always taught us about how people live in other parts of the world, so I thought I had a good idea of what to expect when I got to Cambodia,” remembers Sarah. “But being there made everything seem much more real. Seeing how this woman lived, in poverty and without her leg, but still managing to maintain a positive attitude, it was all very inspiring.”
When Sarah and her father returned to the States, she had a new appreciation for life, as well as desire to help others. She soon began accompanying her father on trips to Haiti; where he had been working at a medical clinic run by the humanitarian group Haitian Organization Program for Education and Health (HOPEH.) “Sarah loved meeting new people and having all these experience so far from her own,” Dr. Hartman says. “It spurred an interest in social justice in her that’s she’s held on to all these years.” …
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake that ravaged the island of Haiti, leaving 300,000 dead and over a million people homeless.
In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, Children’s Hospital Boston Chief Executive Officer, James Mandell, MD, said that the hospital would continue to support the Haitian relief efforts, and this has proven to be the case. More than 50 staff have been to the island since last January – as recently as last month – with more scheduled to go in the coming months.
Conditions have been extremely difficult, with hurricanes, a deadly outbreak of cholera and riots making difficult work even harder. But Children’s staff have persevered. They’ve been in the pediatric ward, operating rooms, emergency ward and ICU. They’ve delivered babies immediately after the disaster, taken care of the sick and injured aboard the USNS Comfort, helped young amputees learn to walk again, connected school children across an ocean and have done training here at Children’s that they hope will help improve the care they deliver in the next disaster they’re called to help with.
There’s been national media coverage of their efforts, and we’ve chronicled their stories here on Thrive throughout the year, but today we hear from some of them in their own words, a year after the quake, about what they saw, what they learned and what their hopes are for the country.
Have you been to Haiti and have a story to share? Do you have thoughts about Haiti on this one-year anniversary, and how the world can continue to help the impoverished nation get up off its knees. Leave stories, comments and hopes in the comments section below. …