Haiti can be a very scary place to be pregnant–the lack of adequate facilities and the dearth of information available to expectant mothers can make surviving those nine months a herculean task. With 670 deaths per 100,000 live births, Haiti has the highest maternal mortality rate in the region. Those who do survive, face daunting odds in a country with 86.7 deaths per 1,000 children under age five.
Dr. Jean Edgar Aupont, OB/GYN and the head of Maternity at St Damien Hospital, is looking to change all that. He grew up watching his father, also an OB/GYN, working tirelessly to save the lives of high-risk patients. “My father,” Dr. Aupont reflects, “had this powerful ability to focus in on every single patient. It didn’t matter if he had already seen 60 patients–he treated each one as an individual with a unique health history.”
When it came time for Dr. Aupont to choose his own specialty, he knew he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. He spent his years after medical school traveling throughout Haiti, providing maternal care for the rural poor far out into the province. He spent five years at L’Hopital Beracka in the northern town of Port-de-Paix, and then came down to work at St Damien after the earthquake.
“All the surrounding maternity facilities had been destroyed,” Dr. Aupont explains. “We were flooded with all these patients that had nowhere else to go, and we just went right in there and got to work. The program jumped from seeing a couple dozen patients the first month to nearly a thousand visits by the end of the year. In 2010 we treated 3,893 high-risk pregnancies.”
Dr. Aupont explains: “For so many of these patients, we are really their last resort, the only place they have to go. Imagine being an expectant mother and being told that you’re going to need a C-section, and knowing you don’t have the money to pay for it. To have that knowledge that both you and your child could die–it makes me sick to think of what used to happen to these mothers. And now instead they come to this beautiful facility, surrounded by people whose sole purpose it is to make sure that the mother and her child come out healthy–it’s a miracle.”
St Damien Maternity works closely with St Damien Neonatology and the St. Luc Manitane Pre-natal clinic in an effort to provide holistic care. “We want these mothers to have the best chance,” Dr. Aupont describes, “not just survive their high-risk pregnancies, but to have the healthiest children possible. We know we have to get in there early, and provide continued support to make sure nothing gets dropped.”
Dr Aupont continues, “And that’s really the best part of working here–the people. I was lucky enough to be the right person in the right place in the right circumstance. But I can’t only depend on myself, which is why it’s so fantastic to work with the whole St Damien team, especially maternity. The support I receive from Father Rick and St Damien leadership–it keeps us all extremely positive and inspires us to be the best hospital we can be. Right now, we feel like we are all climbing steps towards our goal of being one of the top maternity hospitals in the developing world.” He takes a moment to reflect and then changes his mind. “Not even the developing world. The entire world.”