On July 2nd, NPFS celebrated the birthday of Amanda, a 13-year-old currently receiving treatment for osteosarcoma in St. Damien’s nine bed-cancer center. Surrounded by her fellow patients, nurses and doctors, Amanda was serenaded on guitar and saxophone by NPFS staff, as well as famed Italian singer Paola Turci, who was visiting the hospital.
St. Damien’s cancer center opened in 2005, initially treating nephroblastoma, hepatoblastoma, retinoblastoma, and Burkitt’s lymphoma-all solid tumor diseases. In 2010, the Center expanded to treat osteosarcoma, lymphoma and LLA leukemia, as well as Hodgkin’s and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Currently the Center treats 25 patients a month, and has a staff of two doctors, five nurses, and two nursing assistants.
Amanda’s particular case was diagnosed by using a lab outside of Haiti. One of the biggest obstacles facing the center has been the lack of skilled pathologists within Haiti, the entire country only has three pathology centers and there are often mistakes in diagnosis. Because of this, St. Damien’s cross-checks all pathological reports in the US, collaborating with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. Improving in-country diagnosis is one of the factors Dr. Pascale Yola Gassant Heurtelou, the Haitian pediatrician who runs the center, is focusing on as she works to expand the current services available.
“The goal is to have a comprehensive hematoncology/pathology center,” Dr. Heurtelou explains. She spent 10 years of her medical training in Cuba at the Facultad de Medicina Carlos J. Finlay in Camagüey and communicates regularly with Asociacion de Hematologia-Oncologia Pediatrica de Centro America (AHOPCA). “We also want to expand the amount of cancers and hematological disorders treated here,” she says, adding the later in reference to St. Damien’s treatment of sickle cell disease and hemophilia. In order to achieve this goal, Dr. Heurtelou is working with St. Jude’s to develop both a training program for local staff as well as to increase the flow of resources into Haiti.
As with all services provided by St. Damien’s Hospital, treatment is and will continue to be free of charge. To Amanda’s mother, a widow who lost her home and employment in the earthquake, this provides no end of relief. As she watched the nurses bring Amanda her birthday cake, she clapped her hands in time with the music and smiled at her daughter. “Mesi Anpil. Thank you very much,” she says quietly as her daughter cuts the first slice. “Pou tout. For everything.”