A bus crash, Ambassador visit, and Grace
What a few weeks it’s been. One of those fortnights which results in a blog where it’s hard to know what to write or where to begin.
About a week and a half ago, one of our ambulance drivers knocked on our door at about 10pm, asking if we could come and help with an emergency, after a truck full of people had flipped over outside the hospital. About 22 patients subsequently crammed into the clinic, which ended up looking more like an accident and emergency ward. The staff did a fantastic job, dealing with some very critical cases, undoubtedly saving many lives.
That same week, I headed off to Port au Prince for a national Spinal Cord Injury meeting with public and private sector groups, looking at improving spinal care across the whole country. On the same day, The American Ambassador for Haiti headed up North and visited our hospital site. Reninca, Dr Toussaint, and Immacula (our new Head Administrator) did a wonderful job showing the Ambassador around, in a proud day for the hospital. It was an honor having the opportunity to share our vision with the Ambassador, and pass on our thanks for the kind support of USAID over the last few years.
Whilst in Port au Prince, I had the chance to visit one of Haiti’s other Spinal Units, which is also one of the only hospitals in the country where you can find periodic surgery for children with hydrocephalus. It was a slightly surreal experience walking through their paediatric ward, seeing children who looked so similar to our Gracey. Poignantly, the memories it stirred within me about Grace were the first of many this week. Today is the anniversary of her tragic passing away last year.
Much has been done in HHA’s quest to reduce child mortality rates in Haiti since then. As one example, 109 babies have passed through our neonatal unit since last April, many undoubtedly being saved by the critical care provided. However, I guess at this time, whilst it’s true we can see some hugely significant steps forward in paediatric care, when it comes to hydrocephalus, not much has changed in Haiti. We’re still faced with the same tragic reality that a year on, children in North Haiti with hydrocephalus still don’t have any real chance of long term survival.
I do dream that one day we’ll be able to offer surgical assistance for such vulnerable children, but like all NGO’s in Haiti at the moment, the great needs are met with diminishing financial capacity to tackle some of these injustices. Just a few weeks ago one child with hydrocephalus was bought to our respite home, a small toddler with a head probably 3-4 times bigger than it should have been, at a point where it honestly seemed like there was little we could do.
Yet, whilst in Port au Prince, I had the moving chance to re-unite with one of our old earthquake spinal patients, now walking freely without a stick, and working at one of Haiti’s main banks. After just meeting him, one of our friends remarked to me, ‘according to some people, spinal care can’t be done in Haiti.’ That was the reality 3 years ago, but thanks to the collaboration, hard work and vision of many, a lots changed since then.
As I reflect on Grace today, I hope that in the next few years we’ll be able to say the same about hydrocephalus in North Haiti. Grace is just one of many children we’ve seen die prematurely due to hydrocephalus. We’re not going to stop working until their lives truly leave the legacy deserved; and move the international community into action, in order to stop other avoidable deaths. If it can be done for spinal care, it can be done again for children like Grace.