The gift of healing can change a child’s life

Christmas music makes Paul* smile. He will soon return home from St. Damien Hospital in Haiti. This means Paul will be able to celebrate the holidays at home with his parents and siblings. This season of family and love means so much to him.

Paul smiling at the prospect of Christmas at home

Care from two families

Paul is lucky to be cared for by two families. One is his biological family. The other is his NPH family – all the staff, volunteers and donors who have supported Paul as his health has faced its ups and downs over the years. When children and young people like Paul need help to face long-term medical challenges, NPH can offer them on-going specialised care. Part of NPH’s mission is to offer long-term care. This not only saves children’s lives, but it also improves their quality of life.

A short life full of challenges

Paul’s life has not been an easy one. He comes from a neighbourhood called Ti Kajou in Carrefour, a residential area outside Haiti’s capital, Port-Au-Prince. It is 20km from St. Damien Hospital. It is not a safe place; the threat of gangs and kidnappings are growing concerns there. Paul lives in a modest house with his parents, Madeline* and Emmanuel*, along with two brothers and a sister.

“The roof leaks badly so we all have to move around when it rains,” says Emmanuel. Many houses in Ti Kajou do not have a connection to the municipal water supply. Every day his mother and siblings must go and collect water for the family by the bucketful. “We have to walk a long way to buy clean water for cooking and drinking,” she says, explaining that “the kids help me, but the buckets get heavy”. Good, steady work is scarce in Ti Kajou, so Paul’s parents have struggled to provide enough food or basic needs for their children.

Paul at St. Damien hospital with his mum
Paul with his mum Madeline by his side

The baby who was sick and nobody knew why

From the time he was a baby, Paul’s health has been fragile. He suffers from chronic kidney problems, but at first, doctors could not diagnose this. Madeline remembers how he became swollen, which worried her. When she first took Paul to a clinic, the doctor thought that he was suffering from malnutrition. Paul was enrolled in a malnutrition recovery programme. However, he still swelled up. Madeline remembers that “his abdomen was big- his jaws, his feet, his whole body- everything got swollen”.

Frustrated that doctors could not cure her baby, Madeline took him to a “houngan”, a traditional healer, whose treatment also failed. “I was so afraid that he would die”, recalls Emmanuel, his father. Then, in 2012, Paul was hospitalised twice with the Sisters of Charity in Port-Au-Prince. Seeing that his case was beyond their ability to diagnose or treat, Paul was transferred to St. Damien Hospital in January 2013.

A correct diagnosis changes Paul’s life

Fortunately, Paul had come to the right place. The medical team at St. Damien Hospital was finally able to diagnose correctly that he suffers from a chronic kidney disorder. Paul was admitted to the specialist kidney clinic run by Dr. Judith Exantus, the only paediatric nephrologist (children’s kidney specialist) in Haiti. Paul’s first hospitalisation lasted 2 weeks. Since then, he has been a regular at the kidney clinic, coming monthly for ongoing treatment and check-ups.

Dr. Marc Dervil, a paediatrician at St. Damien Hospital, recalls that Paul’s condition has worsened at times, being admitted six times from 2013 to 2021. “He takes prednisone (a corticosteroid) to treat his kidneys, but this can have the side effect of lowering his immune system. Maybe this is the reason why Paul has had some severe lung infections.” In fact, complications caused Paul to have lung surgery in August. Then in September, he had a relapse of his kidney problems that required extending his hospitalisation. He has spent several weeks recuperating in the paediatric ward.

Currently, Paul is in the recovery phase. Once home, he will resume his regular follow-up visits to the kidney clinic and receive psychological support. Treatment for chronic diseases can be challenging. Dr. Dervil explains that “it requires that the patient and his family comply with medical and lifestyle suggestions”, adding that ”therapy is also needed to help the family and the child deal with the disease’s impact on them.”

Paul’s condition requires regular check-ups

Quality care for those who cannot normally afford it

“My husband does not make much money and neither do I. We could not have paid for even one of the treatments that NPH has given to Paul,” states his mother. In a private hospital in Haiti, each of Paul’s hospitalisations would have cost between US$2,500 and US$3,000, beyond the reach of most Haitians. Therefore, St. Damien Hospital was the best choice for Paul. His family has only had to pay a modest fee each time. Paul is cared for by a multidisciplinary team of specialists: paediatricians, paediatric nephrologists and paediatric surgeons. He has also benefited from psychological support from the hospital psychologist. Once back home again, Paul will receive follow-up care at the kidney clinic.

It’s the season for children to be with their families

“This Christmas will be a happy one”, states Madeline, smiling as she adds “now that Paul is coming home, all the family can celebrate together.” Paul is happy that he will soon re-join his family. “I can’t wait to play driving games again on my mum’s mobile phone; they are so much fun,” he says. When Paul is asked about what he would like for Christmas, he pauses before answering, “I wish that all the sick children can recover as I have.”

You can help children like Paul

You can give the gift of healing and hope to sick children in Haiti by donating to St. Damien Hospital today.

*Privacy note

People’s names, marked with an asterisk, have been changed to protect their privacy.