I wish to share with you all the beautiful story of Lucien*. It was Saturday, September 12th, the day of the Holy name of Mary, and Father Rick Frechette and I weaved through crowed streets on the backs of motorcycles in route to help run a clinic at St. Joseph’s with the Missionaries of Charity, also known as the Sisters of Mother Theresa. As we neared the church in Croix des Bossales, we came upon a bustling marketplace, full of people selling and trading. The crowd was so thick it blocked our way. It seemed like there was not an inch of space; a pin thrown into the air would surly have struck a pedestrian and not the ground. This same marketplace dates back to France’s rule in Haiti and was once a slave trading outpost. We gathered our courage and plunged into the crowd on foot elbowing and nudging our way to the gates of St. Joseph’s. We went from the crowded streets to a crowed courtyard as the church’s exterior was lined with the sick and destitute. I was amazed at their numbers and baffled at how they managed to part the sea of people we had barely just been able to swim through to get there.
We gathered with the Sisters and prayed over all the pain and suffering and asked for God’s guidance in the work before us. Then we began, washing, cleaning, and bandaging wounds of every kind. Father Rick, being a medical doctor, spent most of his time seeing children and diagnosing chronic diseases, malaria, malnutrition, tuberculosis, hepatitis, etc. The line to receive care is long and it takes a while, but eventually a man walks up with a very sick child and places him before us. This sick child’s name is Lucien. Father Rick’s face fills with concern upon seeing him. I immediately notice how skinny the child is and that he is non-responsive and close to death. We are too late perhaps. I see in Fr. Rick’s eyes a small glimmer of hope. A hope that is not rooted in science but rather in faith. As a doctor, he thought that Lucien wouldn’t make it, but as a priest, he knows that all things are possible through Christ.
We got one of the Sisters to put in an IV, which in itself was a challenge as the dehydration was so severe that it seemed impossible to find a vein on Lucien. Father Rick told me to watch carefully the skill of the Sister. I was impressed not only by her skill inserting the needle in one of the veins on the child’s head but by her focus and compassion while she was doing it. She was devoted to God asking Him for His assistance, and towards Lucien, recognizing how every life is sacred. This is the same devotion I always see in the other Sisters while they spend their early hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
Once the needle was inserted, Father Rick had me squeeze with all my strength so as to force the fluid from the IV into Lucien as fast as possible. If we couldn’t rehydrate the child, he surely would die. As the first bag started trickling life back into Lucien’s body, Father Rick stepped out to arrange to take him to the NPH Haiti St. Damien Pediatric Hospital. The first bag emptied, a second was attached, I looked at Lucien and his father, my heart was aching for them. A father watching his baby die in front of him, words eluded me. I felt totally useless as I prayed that the liquid would revive this shriveled child. I asked Lucien’s father if there was anything else I could do, as if I had the ability to do something! I immediately thought, “I’m truly a fool”. But there are moments that only afterwards you realize that it wasn’t you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. At my request, his father asked me, “Can you please baptize him?”. I was caught by surprise because that was actually the only thing I was really able to do. I did not hesitate. I took some water in my hands and after praying with him and the Sisters, I baptized Lucien. It was a very moving moment and my heart quietly cried to God, “he’s not only your creature now, he’s your son! Please, have mercy!”
Right after the baptism, Father Rick came back and handed papers over to Lucien’s father telling him that there is no time to waste and that he must run Lucien to St. Damien, but the man had no means of transportation and it would of taken hours before one of our ambulances could have come to pick them up. So Father Rick asked Father Hugo Esparza, a Passionist from Mexico who was visiting us, to accompany them to the hospital by motorbike. Imagine the scene on the motorbike. A driver, a father holding his sick child, and then almost falling off the back, a priest holding an IV back high above his head winding through roads full of holes, traffic, garbage, and dust.
Once we finished visiting all the other patients, we headed back to St. Damien. I ran into the emergency room to see Lucien. He was pale and unconscious, still sitting on a chair because the emergency room was too full and there was no bed available for him. I asked the doctor about his condition, and she said he will probably die in the next few hours because he had septicemia. I looked in his father’s eyes and I saw a mixture of fear, desperation, and loss. Again I quietly cried to God, “Lucien became your beloved son today, please have mercy!”
After sunset I returned to the ER, and as I walked in, the doctor gave me a nod and said, “He’s still alive”. I found Lucien in a bed that had opened up since his arrival. His father was next to the bed exhausted and asleep. I quietly touched Lucien’s right hand and he grabbed my finger almost as if he was saying to me, “no worries, I will hang on and I won’t let go”.
A few days later when I returned to the emergency room to check on Lucien, I couldn’t find him. My first thought was that he had finally succumb and passed away during the night. And although this is typically how the story ends in this case, God had other plans. Lucien was moved to the malnutrition room. I found him upstairs this time with his mother next to him. He grabbed my finger again, “Still holding on”.
Above the children’s bed are boards with each patients name and date of birth, Lucien: Dec 25th 2014. Born on Christmas day. Lucien, the boy who was saved both physically and spiritually by water, who had no bed in our ER upon arrival, whose very life is a miracle shares a birthday with Jesus.
A few weeks passed by without seeing the father, so I asked about him and was told by Lucien’s mother that when he found out that Lucien was diagnosed with a chronic disease on top of the malnutrition, he disappeared. She almost did the same. Our social service staff was able to convince her to stay and they placed her and Lucien in our follow up clinic. Still, they had nowhere to go to live. The father could not be contacted and Lucien’s grandmother (his mother’s mother) didn’t want to accept her daughter. In part because of the illness and also because she already cares for a four year old boy that her daughter conceived with another man in another similar situation. She was disappointed with her daughter and also considered Lucien as “a curse”. It seemed as the “no place for them in the inn” and the story was back again (cfr Luke 2:7).
On October 28th, the feast of St. Jude apostle, together with the Missionaries of Charity, we decided to go visit the grandmother and try to convince her to accept her daughter and Lucien, by promising to provide food and possibly some kind of job to help sustain them. I sent requests to many of my friends at NPH requesting prayer and asking for the intercession of the Holy Family and of St. Jude, hoping the grandmother would understand like St. Joseph did in his dream (cfr Mt 1:20), that Lucien is not cursed at all, that he has no fault in all this and that he is actually blessed because God has already saved his life. We wanted her to see that Lucien is a blessing, and that his life is a miracle, and that God cares for him very much.
On November 3th, Sr. Dominica, of the Missionaries of Charity, was able to meet Lucien’s grandmother who, after a long dialogue, accepted to welcome her daughter and grandson despite some financial and cultural issues. Lucien had improved so much in the last two months and now he is at home. Once a month, he and his mother will come to the hospital for follow up appointments with the clinic. We will also help the family by giving them a small business selling our chickens and tilapia fish produced by the St. Luke Foundation for Haiti. As you can see, your support is so important for us. Through it we are able to do outreach, to offer healthcare, education, water and food, and to help create jobs. All of these things allow people to live with dignity and change the trajectory of their lives.
In total, Lucien spent 57 days at St. Damien. He is a very blessed boy and I wish to express together with Fr. Rick and Lucien’s mother our gratitude for your prayers. Thank you all and please continue to pray for Lucien and his family, but especially for the so many other children and women, like Lucien and his mother, who are struggling to survive and searching for an extended hand or finger to hold on to. God bless you all and may we always make space in our hearts to welcome the child Jesus.
Fr. Enzo Del Brocco, C.P.
St. Damien treated over 360 children with severe malnutrition in 2015. Every donation that St. Damien receives helps to give life-saving medical care to those most in need. To help make a difference visit St. Damien Project
*Name changed to protect privacy.
Sixth anniversary of the Haiti earthquake.
This Tuesday, January 12, marks the sixth anniversary of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated the nation of Haiti. Fr. Rick Frechette, National Director of NPH Haiti, reports that, “even though the country is still bouncing back from the devastation, the team at St. Damien is tireless in its efforts to help the most vulnerable. Because of our successful and unique approach to healthcare, we are able to reach the children and families that need us most. Cholera is still present after six long years, and our pediatric beds are always full, especially when it rains.
Fr Rick reports that St. Damien Pediatric Hospital has:
- Provided over 13,300 consults.
- Delivered 2,000 babies and provided neonatology care for 480 babies.
- 21 children received life-saving cardiac surgery – a new program at St. Damien this past year.
- Treated over 3,000 children for dehydration with an average of 50 children diagnosed with cholera monthly.
- Provided over 1,700 Tuberculosis consults and treated 267 new cases.
- Over 800 Oncology consults with 67 new children receiving cancer treatment.
We are deeply grateful to everyone who supported St. Damien in 2015 by making donations, attending events, visiting, volunteering, and giving products and services. With your help we will continue to support thousands of children who need us.
Every donation that St. Damien receives helps to give life-saving medical care to those most in need. To help make a difference visit St. Damien Project
As we celebrate with joy the season of Christmas, and are delighted to be given gifts in beautiful wrappings, in truth the biggest gift we can possibly receive is witnessing how God is working all around us, to make a wrong world right.
The bible speaks of the birth of Christ as the end of the reign of darkness, as a time of mercy and forgiveness, as a time when the lion and the lamb will live together in peace. This new age of blessing will be ushered in by a tiny child.
While working as a doctor last Saturday with Mother Teresa’s Sisters in their clinic, in downtown Port au Prince, I mustered up my strength for the usual array of terrible wounds, advanced illnesses, and harsh sufferings of these very poor people.
Late in the morning, when the last people to be consulted were coming into view, I caught sight of a 5-year-old girl who was remarkable for her wide open gaze. From a distance, she made me chuckle, as her expression made her seem so curious and bright. Her name is Ruth*.
But when Ruth was finally in front of me, it was a different story. I noticed that her wide opened eyes were fixed on me, but she could only barely see me. Her eyes did not move freely, rather she turned her whole head to try to look at something. I suspected deficiency of vitamin A, which often causes this loss of vision and then total blindness. Looking at her closely, she had signs of other vitamin deficiencies as well. For sure, because of where and how she lives, she was also host to parasites and amoebas that robbed her of nutrition, and that her depressed immune system made it likely she has tuberculosis.
Her illness is of human making. She is sick because of unfairness, because of social and economic unfairness. Poverty is of our making, not of God’s making.
Her uneducated parents cannot find work, and so good food, clean water and seeing a doctor when you are sick, are all impossible luxuries. When you live among the poorest of people, in filthy and crowded slums, the door to life closes tight against you, and marks you with the stigma of poverty.
In trying to help Ruth, treating the parasites was the only easy part.
For complex reasons related to her family, Ruth could not be admitted to our St. Damien Hospital. Yet she still urgently needs injections of vitamin A, and now this would be an enormous challenge. So would be her treatment of tuberculosis.
I slipped into sadness as I considered that even if we are able to give Ruth all the right medicines, we cannot change the economic circumstances of her life, of her poverty, which is finally the cause of her illness.
As I looked for solutions to the deeper layers of Ruth’s problems, I felt like someone trying to untie a massive knot in a string, yet never quite finding the loose end, from which to begin the untying.
Ruth’s life is tragic, and trying to unravel what is wrong reveals even more levels of wrongness.
The Christmas message is just this: it is God himself who chooses to enter into every level of these tragedies, in order to work salvation.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18)
God wants Ruth’s eyes to see.
So do I.
I want those bright eyes to see:
To see me,
To see her mom again.
And I pledge by the holiness of Christmas that we at NPH Haiti will find every way to make this happen. I hope that Ruth will come to the outpatient clinic at our St. Damien Pediatric Hospital for folllow-up for her TB and vitamin A injections, though this depends on her mother.
The very last person to see for the day was Madame Moise. She is, amazingly when you think of the poverty in which she lives, a glowing and gracious woman of 79 years.
I had seen Madame Moise just a few weeks before. She came because she also was nearly blind. A quick flash of my penlight across her eyes showed thick cataracts.
I had sent her to a friend in town, an eye doctor, to have the cataracts removed.
And now, this friendly, pleasant woman, whose life has been as far from easy as any of us could possible imagine, was here to thank me, and to look me directly in the eyes. She studied my eyes, my face, my hands, and she thanked me again, saying “I was blind, and now I can see again, thanks to you.”
It isn’t really thanks to me.
Alright, maybe it is a little bit.
But it is really thanks to God “in whose light we see light itself.” (Psalm 36:9)
This is my Christmas gift to you, introducing you to these two amazing Haitian women. One is very young and the other very old. For both, because of their poverty, their best shot at healthcare was in a crowded clinic, in the market at Croix des Bossales, in Port au Prince. They shine like two diamonds against the dark background of poverty. They have fallen into my hands, and by extension, into yours.
Who can miss what is happening here, and how God is working wonders through us?
“We have seen his glory, the glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. And of his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:14)
Thank you for your faithful help to all of us at NPH, in all the countries where we work, for all the children in our homes, and those who come to us for help.
Merry Christmas and God bless you and your families in the new year!
We are happy to report that since the time of this writing, Ruth’s mother has brought her to the NPH Haiti St. Damien Hospital for outpatient treatment for TB and for vitamin A injections.
*Name changed for privacy.
World AIDS Day is December 1, 2015. Annually the St. Damien HIV program screens 20,000 adults (including pregnant women) and children for HIV ending with 2% being positive. Only pregnant women and children receive care at St. Damien. All other adults who tested positive are referred to other sites. Together with their parents, the children infected with HIV receive psychological follow-up care and medical treatment including anti-retroviral therapy. Social workers assist with coordination of other PEPFAR or Global Fund programs offering economical help, food, housing, vocational training, micro credit opportunities and academic scholarships. With time, some children are referred to new sites that open near their community to improve compliance. To date, approximately 800 children are followed, 484 receive anti-retroviral therapy (ART). Additionally every year approximately 60 pregnant women benefit from the prevention of transmission of HIV to their babies.
The HIV program employees 40 staff, of which three are part-time.
NPH Spain wins an award from the pharmaceutical company Lilly, through its corporate social responsibility program. The funds will go to fight tuberculosis (TB) at the NPH Haiti St. Damien Pediatric Hospital.
With this contribution, Lilly remains committed to the MDR – TB Partnership initiative the company has promoted globally since 2003 to combat tuberculosis. This disease kills more than 150,000 people worldwide each year affecting mainly the populations of developing countries.
The TB program at St. Damien’s treats both Pulmonary and Extra-Pulmonary TB and is for children between 0-14 years of age. Some cases are hospitalized, but most are outpatient receiving a six-month regimen with close supervision for compliance by two field agents. In 2014, St. Damien provided 1,656 TB consultations and treated 298 pediatric cases.
Twenty-five new laptops were donated to the NPH Haiti St. Damien Pediatric Hospital by the Bendix Company, which is part of the Global Care Foundation. According to a Bendix manager, their employees were strongly motivated to help after seeing the laptop donation project on the nph.org website.
In addition to donating the laptops, Bendix also generously delegated specialists to come to Haiti for an onsite computer training at St. Damien Hospital that lasted from September 22nd to September 24th. Fifty-seven St. Damien employees participated in this training. Basic and intermediate classes were provided along with a specific class designated for the administration staff. Participants had the opportunity to significantly expand their knowledge in Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook.
From now on, St. Damien employees will be able to accomplish their work in a more efficient way. For instance, this generous donation will help us in our surgery center to quickly schedule surgeries and make changes to schedules in case of emergencies. The social services department will use their laptops to attend to patients and families by helping them to deal with difficult situations with sick children. Department coordinators will be able to better manage their extensive caseload and reporting. In the Emergency Room and in the Intensive Care Unit, the laptops will help to electronically send laboratory analyses and x-rays directly to these rooms.
According to Mario Flores, the Program Manager of Bendix, “this was a great training for the staff which in turn will help support the vital services that this hospital is offering its patients. We are glad to be a part of the process and to help.” Bendix has committed to assist with continued professional development and training.
St. Damien staff that participated received a completion certificate on the last day of training. On behalf of the St. Damien Pediatric Hospital, we want to express a huge thank you to the Bendix Company for their generous support. The laptops and training will help our hospital to continue providing the highest quality of care treatment for disadvantaged and ill children in Haiti.
NPH Haiti began helping the victims of cholera before it hit Port-au-Prince in 2010, by driving to Port-de-Paix to help Mother Theresa’s Sisters manage their many cases and later to St. Marc when it was overrun with patients. NPH set up its first center, St. Philomena Rehydration Center, in the compound of the NPH Kay Germaine rehabilitation center in Tabarre. St. Philomena would grow to become the current St. Luke Foundation hospital for adults.
In 2013, the pediatric section of the cholera/rehydration center was moved to St. Damien to better manage the child cases. The center is called Rehydration Center to avoid the stigma of cholera. Although an oral efficient vaccine against cholera was tested and introduced in Haiti, the coverage remains low so the population still remains vulnerable. Other diarrheal illnesses are treated at the center as well.
St. Damien Pediatric Hospital and its community health programs receive people from all over the country, so cholera is always present. The number of patients increase with the amount of rainfall. The vast majority of people still do not have access to clean drinking water. They must purchase gallons of treated water for drinking and washing dishes. They buy untreated water for showers and laundry which sometimes is the only water they have if they can afford to purchase water at all.
There were multiple cholera centers in Haiti at the beginning of the epidemic but now there are approximately only 15 that NPH Haiti can identify, with the only pediatric one at St. Damien.
The center is also used as one of the sentinel sites to study the impact of the rotavirus vaccine, newly introduced in Haiti in 2014 for children by the Ministry of Health and CDC epidemiological teams. Rotavirus is a virus causing most cases of diarrhea in children under one year of age.
January to June 2015, St. Damien has treated over 1,881 rehydration pediatric cases with 323 being identified as cholera.
Olson*, is four-old boy from Jacmel, a town located two hours away from Port-au-Prince. His mother’s name is Rolande and his father is Maudelaire and they have three other children. Despite the challenges, he has had to face at such a young age, Oson is still a curious, helpful and sweet little boy to everyone he meets. His best friend is his cousin Priscille, whom he loves to play with at home.
In August 2014, Olson had hernia surgery at St. Damien Pediatric Hospital. In March 2015, his mom discovered he was suffering from cancer. The disease started with stomachaches and his mom discovered that there was a hard lump on his belly. His mother started to give him some common medicine for gas, but he did not improve, so they went to see a private doctor in their neighborhood in Jacmel. The doctor requested a scan and then referred them to St. Damien Pediatric Hospital.
When Olson arrived at St. Damien, he was quickly examined by the doctors and nurses and was admitted to the hospital oncology ward. He has blood tests, urine, X-Ray and two more scans and biopsy procedure. The result showed that Olson had Rhabdomyosarcoma abdominal. Because the family lives too far away from the hospital and because of the financial circumstances, a parent is obligated to sleep at the hospital with the child. This of course can be a strain on the family if the other parent has to work.
Olson is currently started his treatment of chemotherapy at St. Damien in the cancer ward. At first he had some complication with the chemotherapy, such as not being able to talk, swelling, fever and vomiting. His health is getting better since he’s been taking the medicine. After chemotherapy he will have to travel to the Dominican Republic in the coming month to continue the radiation treatment, however beforehand he will have to get another scan to see if the chemotherapy reduced the tumor.
According to Maulaire, “I want to thank the initiative of this hospital because when my private doctor referred my child to Port-au-Prince at St. Damien Hospital, I was already thinking if there really is somewhere that they treat cancer in Haiti and I felt disparate as I don’t have money to travel to a foreign country. I really believe that without this hospital, without St. Damien, my child would already have died.”
*Name changed to protect privacy.