Nady remembers not being able to stay awake in class. “I was so tired, all the time,” she explains. “The teacher would start to speak and then I would just collapse onto my desk. I couldn’t keep my eyes open.”
There could have been many reasons for such a reaction—boring teachers for one would be many students’ excuse in the United States. But Nady had always been smart, studying hard and getting to bed early. Falling asleep in class went against type for her, and besides, it felt more like passing out than just being a little bit tired.
Her teacher sent her to the school director. The school director realized it must be an illness and sent Nady to the school clinic. Medicine given by the school nurse resulted in Nady feeling even sicker. Soon she was referred to the HUEH, Haiti’s General Hospital.
“That was the scariest,” Nady explains, sitting on the St Damien balcony and looking out towards the surrounding mountains. “They did a test and I guess they figured I didn’t have enough blood.” Indeed, Nady’s tests showed she was anemic. But what happened next nearly killed her.
“They weren’t able to test my blood type,” she says, showing hematology knowledge not often found in a 13-year-old. “They gave me the wrong type of blood, and all of a sudden I felt horribly wrong.”
It was touch and go for the days after. The General Hospital, realizing they didn’t have the tools to treat Nady, sent her to St Damien.
“That’s when we finally got a diagnosis,” Nady’s mother explains. “Aplastic Anemia.”
Aplastic anemia occurs when bone marrow is unable to produce sufficient new cells to replace old blood cells. Normally, if a person is anemic, it is their red blood cells that are unable to be replenished; in a patient with aplastic anemia, lower counts of all three blood cell types—red, white and platelets—occurs.
The St Damien Pediatric Oncology and Hematology Center immediately went to see what could be done to help Nady. In the United States, a child with Nady’s diagnosis would be eligible for a bone marrow transplant. In Haiti and the neighboring DR, the procedure is not possible.
So the team came up with the next best option – coordinating with the center’s partner, the St Jude’s Children’s Research Center, they decided they could give Nady immunosuppressive drugs while at the same time giving her monthly blood transfusions. Since untreated aplastic anemia leads to death within 6 months, the St Damien team proved to be a “life saver,” according to Nady’s mom.
Now Nady tries to balance living a normal life with managing a chronic condition. “It can be hard,” she concedes. “But I remember how I felt after that blood transfusion, so close to death. Being alive each day, with a sickness I can manage, makes me feel lucky and powerful. I feel like I can do anything.”