lwala cook

One of the most heart-rending patients I saw was young man with HIV/AIDS. He had initially presented to the clinic on 12/10 with advanced disease (for the medical folks his CD4 count was 3) and was started on antiretroviral therapy (HAART). He came back to clinic in January dehydrated with diarrhea, some fairly advanced skin ulcers, cough and fever. I remember the morning he arrived he was laying outside the clinic on a mat an hour before opening, I could tell from a distance that he was incredibly emaciated, I went over to make sure he was okay, and this man, despite his illness gave me the sweetest smile. He continued to have such a warm smile throughout the few days he spent on observation with us while receiving IV fluids and antibiotics, and gradually improved though he was still very weak. He was discharged on home-based care and I walked with the community health workers to his house a few days later to see how he was. He continued to be incredibly cachectic and weak, but was interactive and eating some. We were able to clarify some of the medication regimens for the family and asked them to come back to clinic the following day. It was incredibly humbling being in his home. His wife was so happy we had come; her generosity was overwhelming, she gave us a generous basket of produce from her garden. I found out 3 days later that he had passed away at home. I felt overwhelmingly sad, and I must confess, still have lingering questions about the best plan of care. Would his course been different had he been at a major medical center? This is a question I will always have to wrestle with. In the course of the month I have seen a lot of HIV/AIDS patients, most of them have been amazingly well, living productive lives on HAART. Several at one stage or another have had immune systems as weak as this man and have recovered remarkably. There is so much hope here, but for those that do pass, like this one, are still devastating for the families and health care workers. I consider it a huge privilege to have known him and his family.

This case is just one on the spectrum of patients I have seen this month. Daily we've seen patients for a range of medical needs including wound debridement, motorbike accidents, sickle cell anemia, along with a range of infections I rarely see in the US: tuberculosis, brucellosis and of course malaria. I've helped deliver a few babies and am in awe of these women who endure childbirth with no pain medicine and very few creature comforts. I have mostly worked in the outpatient department with the clinical officers, but also spend some time in the maternal and child health room on busy days helping with prenatal care and well-child visits. One of the greatest joys has been working with and investing in the clinic staff. I have learned a lot from them about taking care of patients here, and also try to share knowledge about up-to-date treatment guidelines, management of chronic illnesses and broadening their differential diagnoses. Many have family elsewhere and living here is not without sacrifices, so we also just enjoy spending time together outside of work. Leaving Lwala is definitely bittersweet, the month has not been without frustrations or times of loneliness, but I am really sad to leave people here. I take with me lifelong lessons, not only on how to be a better individual clinician, but also in thinking about how to design systems, as well as invest in people to help effectively improve health in resource-poor settings.

 

Coalition links Tennesseans to help for Haiti

The Tennessean

By Jenny Eaton Dyer, Ph.D.

One year ago today, a 7.0-magnitude earth­quake hit the poorest nation in our hemi­sphere:
Haiti. More than 300,000 people died, and more than 1 million Haitians were left without shelter or work. With the subsequent onslaught of Hurricane Tomas and cholera, thousands more have lost their lives.

Former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, M.D., arrived in Port­au- Prince immediately fol­lowing the disaster with a medical mission team for the victims of the earth­quake. Hundreds waited for emergency surgery at Bap­tist Mission Hospital where the team worked day and night for the trauma patients. Within hours of his arrival, the doc­tor- senator sent back blog postings and pho­tos to his Nashville-based global health organization, Hope Through Healing Hands, sharing the stories or both horror and hope of so many who had survived.

One of his patients, 16-year-old schoolgirl Rouite Tisma, had been found alive under the rubble of her schoolhouse. Knowing she had been at the school, her frightened father
searched the site, calling her name for any sign of life. He finally heard a small sound from beneath the collapsed stone building indicating she was still alive. Three days later, they dug her out of the rubble. Her right leg was crushed, and her left forearm and hand swollen. But she and the family rejoiced that she was simply alive.

‘Network of mutuality’


How does the extreme poverty of Haiti affect Tennesseans? The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.’’ Even in this landlocked state, there is a robust global health community addressing emergency relief, prevention of disease, education, extreme poverty and sustainable health care in developing nations.

Hope Through Healing Hands’ Tennessee Global Health Coalition boasts more than 60 in-state members, including nonprofit organ­izations, churches, universities and corpora­tions who touch lives in almost every coun­try in the world.

At the time the earthquake hit in Haiti, the coalition had been in existence for six
months. Yet, even in that short period, the partners were able to quickly and efficiently communicate with one another the needs, intentions and goals to begin the work of relief.

Mobile Medical Disaster Relief inoculated thousands of Haitian children against tetanus and diphtheria. Soles 4 Souls committed to providing more than 1 million pairs of shoes to Haitians. And Sweet Sleep shipped beds, mattresses and linens for children newly orphaned, for a clean, safe place to sleep.

On this anniversary of one of the most devastating earthquakes in history, we are reminded of King’s “inescapable network of mutuality.’’ Wonderful local groups and indi­viduals are changing lives in forgotten cor­ners of the world, albeit quietly, from right here in our own backyards. Tennessee’s vol­unteer spirit is alive and well.

We applaud the global efforts of these groups on behalf of Tennessee and the United States, using health as a currency for peace. In this increasingly globalized world, these countries are our neighbors in the world village, and addressing poverty — whether in Pulaski or Port-au-Prince — means a better, safer world for us all.


Jenny Eaton Dyer, Ph.D., is the executive director of Hope Through Healing Hands.



I received a 24 year old pregnant woman in the ED via ambulance. Her prenatal care consisted of one ultrasound at the city clinic months earlier. She was about 36 weeks pregnant by the date of her last period, and this was her first pregnancy. She had been pushing for 3 hours at home, and someone had administered an unknown IV medication to her at her home hours earlier. She was having contractions every 2-3 minutes, her cervix was fully dilated, and late decelerations were evident on the monitor. I called Dr. Laura, the on call OB physician on call, and asked her to come as soon as she could. On her arrival, she discovered that the baby was transverse and was unable to be rotated. Delivery by forceps and vacuum was not possible. The fetal heart rate by this time was dropping into the 60s with every contraction, thus we rushed to the OR for a C-section. There are no OR teams or standby OR's here, so Drs. Laura and Carrie set up for the surgery and I prepared for procedural sedation, this process seemed to take a very long time. Another on call physician arrived and set up to resuscitate the baby. Two other volunteers heard about the situation and arrived by the start of the procedure to assist in any way possible. Nobody on our team had much more experience than a training course on neonatal resuscitation, so we were very relieved when the baby started breathing and crying seconds after delivery. The mother tolerated the surgery well. I was amazed how well our team of volunteers with experience in various areas of medicine were able to come together to ensure a good outcome for these two patients, despite practicing outside our usual scopes of practice.

During my last Turno, I saw two patients who had clear diagnoses and needed transfer for care that I could not provide in Santiago Atitlan, but whose families refused to allow the patient to go.

The first was an 80 year old female with acute left eye pain, headache, and photophobia. She had acute narrow angle glaucoma on exam, although I was not able to check intraocular pressure. After searching the pharmacy, I was only able to find one medication out of 3-4 recommended medications for this condition, which helped some but didn't fix the problem. She was going to require treatment by an ophthalmologist if she was going to keep her vision. I discussed this with the patient and her family. The family decided that they did not want to have the patient transferred, nor did they want to take her themselves, despite understanding that she would likely be blind in her affected eye without treatment. I believe it may have been related to financial concerns, however, they would not tell me this. Care in the national hospitals is free; the family only has to pay for transfer to the hospital (which is 200Q or about $30). The patient left the hospital with her family, with a bottle of the only medication that we had to treat her condition and the invitation to return should they change their minds.

The second patient was a 3 year old female with abdominal pain, fever, and anorexia for one day. Her examination was very consistent with appendicitis. I discussed the diagnosis and need for treatment with antibiotics and surgery with the patient's mother and grandmother. They declined any treatment of the child until they were able to discuss the problem with the child's father, who was out of town for a few days and not able to be reached. Despite repetitive explanations about what could happen to the child without treatment and pleas to at least allow antibiotics to be given until they were able to reach the child's father, they left without any treatment.

After a wonderful few days to spend time with my family and friends and recover from jet lag, I have arrived in Lwala, a small village in Western Kenya. My month in Lwala will be a combination of serving along side the clinical officers (similar to a nurse practicioner or physician assistant in the US) and nurses in clinic as well as a project focusing both public health and clinical services for malaria prevention and treatment.  I thought I would provide a little context for my work this month.

Lwala

Propelled by their father’s dream and the loss of their parents, Milton and Fred Ochieng’, friends and recent Vandy alumni, founded the Lwala Community Alliance in order to bring health care to their community. The health center opened in April of 2007 and offers primary outpatient care, maternal health services, and HIV treatment, serving more than 1,000 patients each month, 55% of whom are children under 5 years. Patients are most frequently treated for malaria, respiratory infections, parasites, diarrhea, HIV, and TB. In my first few days in Lwala, in addition to the routine outpatient complaints I see in the US, I have seen many patients with malaria, typhoid and several with HIV, both those with new diagnosis of HIV and those who are followed on antiretroviral treatment here. It’s amazing the amount of health care that is provided from this little clinic.

Malaria in Kenya

Malaria is the number one cause of death in Kenya and one of the main barriers to economic and social development. It accounts for ~34,000 deaths among children under five years and 8 million outpatient treatment visits each year. Lwala is in an area of Kenya where malaria is endemic, meaning that there is malaria transmission occurs every year. Immunity is often acquired before adulthood, so the greatest burden of disease and death is amongst children and pregnant woman.

During pregnancy, malaria causes anemia, miscarriages and can result in preterm or low birth weight infants. Children under five years have not yet developed immunity to the parasite and are thus most likely to suffer from severe malaria, which can be life-threatening. The parasite prevalence in children often exceeds 50%.  Because of the significant burden of the disease in Lwala, I will spend some of my time here focusing on malaria from 2 aspects:

  1. Community Health Education: Lwala has had a successful community health education program on basic lifesaving skills for mothers and infants called “umama salama”, and the clinic staff go out into the local schools to provide community health outreach; I hope to utilize those existing networks to implement malaria education focusing on malaria prevention and target health-seeking behaviors to ensure prompt and effective treatment for pregnant women and children.
  2. Clinical care:  One of the challenges of treating malaria in Kenya is the emergence of drug resistance; the first-line treatment in Kenya is now arteminisin-based regimens which while effective, bring new challenges in that this treatment is more expensive and fear of developing drug resistance to one of the last remaining effective treatment regimens in the region. By observing and collecting data on current diagnostic and treatment practices in the clinic, I hope to help identify any areas for improvement.  The head clinical officer has also invited me to help with the weekly continuing medical education sessions for the clinic staff which will be a great opportunity to help make sure they are all practicing updated malaria treatment guidelines, along with targeting some other common clinical problems.

 

 

lightner hospital

A previously healthy 29 year old female arrived in the ED via motor taxi, accompanied by her family, early in the afternoon on a day I was working in the outpatient clinic. I stopped by the ED on my way home, and saw that Turno doctor had her hands full with the patient, so I stopped to help. The patient was hypoxic (74%), tachypneic (58 breaths per minute), and somewhat hypotensive (90/50). She complained of chest pain and shortness of breath for 3 days, and also thought she may have had a fever although she was afebrile on arrival to the ED. Her EKG showed sinus tachycardia, but was otherwise normal (we were only able to obtain limb leads). She appeared chronically ill. We were unable to get labs because of the time of day, and the patient was too unstable to transport for a chest x-ray. Pulmonary embolism was a major concern even though she had no risk factors, thus we gave Heparin for anticoagulation and started to arrange transfer to Guatemala City for diagnostic testing and treatment. After two hours of preparing for transport, collecting supplies (as there are none on the ambulance), and deciding which family member was going to accompany the patient, we were finally ready to go. Just prior to departure, the lab was able to run a rapid HIV test, which came back positive. This added more to the list of possible diagnoses. By this time the patient was on 10L O2 and a Dopamine drip. We added on several antibiotics for possible infection, and started the journey.

The ambulance is a van without the back seats. There is a bench next to the stretcher for family and medical staff. Our crew consisted of the driver, his co-worker, a nurse from the hospital, and me. The patient's husband accompanied us in the back of the ambulance. The terrain in this area of Guatemala is incredibly rugged, and the roads suffer much damage during every rainy season, thus the ride was anything but smooth. During the first 30 minutes of the 3 hour trip, the batteries to the portable pulse oximeter died. I was able to replace these with batteries from my flashlight. A few minutes later, the patient's oxygen saturation dropped from 80% to 60%, signaling that the first oxygen tank of three partially full tanks was empty. The driver pulled over, the other bombero jumped out and changed the tank, the patient recovered, and we got back on the road. We realized that we should have been able to go about twice as long on that tank of O2, meaning we had a leak or a problem with the regulator. If the next two tanks had the same problem, we were not going to have enough O2 to make it to the city. During the next few minutes, the infusion pump stopped working due to dead batteries meaning I had to push medications through a needle into the established IV. After another hour, the second oxygen tank ran out, leaving only 1000L of O2 in left on the ambulance enough for about 30min and we still had more than an hour to go to the hospital in Guatemala City. We had to find a closer hospital that would either care for the patient overnight or give us an oxygen tank so we could make it to the city. The bomberos took us to a nearby hospital, we wheeled the patient inside, and explained our situation. They were happy to give us the oxygen tank; their beds appeared full and their staff already too busy for a very sick patient. The last hour went as smoothly as could be expected under the circumstances. We arrived at the hospital in Guatemala City, took the patient inside, and told the doctors there what we knew. The bed we took the patient to was in the middle of a room full of ill appearing patients. There were no monitors, no private rooms, and very little space to move around. They started her on oxygen and got to work with labs and medications. The nurse and I walked out of the hospital, relieved that our patient had survived the trip.

I don't know what the diagnosis of the patient was or if she survived. At home, this patient would have undergone imaging of her chest, lab testing, been transferred to an ICU, and would have received the appropriate care for the diagnosis found on labs and imaging within hours of arrival in the ED. In Guatemala, she received 3 hours of supportive care in the back of an ambulance, nearly died twice when we ran out of O2, and hopefully was able to receive a diagnosis and care at a hospital hours from her family and home. The nurses and local physicians back in Santiago Atitlan were doubtful that the patient would receive much, if any, treatment given her HIV diagnosis.

Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala

liz lightner

I have spent the last three weeks working in the Hospitalito in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. Santiago Atitlan is a city of 50,000 people, located on beautiful Lake Atitlan, surrounded by three towering volcanoes. The hospital consists of a four bed ED, two labor and delivery rooms with two beds in each, three inpatient rooms, and an operating room. The two upper levels are currently under construction, but will greatly increase the capacity of the hospital. The staff consists of mainly volunteer physicians and local nurses and technicians. The main language spoken by the patients is Tz'utujil, which is then translated by the nurses to Spanish for the physicians. Patients came to the hospital from towns all around the lake and surrounding area. They often arrived via Tuc-Tuc (motorcycle-taxi), but sometimes walked, were carried by family members, or arrived by Bomberos (volunteer firefighters without medical training or resources).

Resources in the hospital were limited, thus the methods diagnosis and treatment of patients varied greatly from what I have become used to at Vanderbilt. Most of the medication and supplies for the hospital are donated by volunteers when they come to work, thus there were times when items that were needed were not available. There are no ventilators or cardiac monitors, mainly because there is no one there to maintain this type of equipment. Laboratory studies are only available Monday through Friday 8-12am and 2-4pm. Imaging is limited to occasional x-rays and a later model ultrasound. There were several OB physicians available at all times to manage obstetrical issues, and a general surgeon every two weeks. Patients requiring a higher level of care or a specialist have to be transferred to one of the national hospitals in Solala or Guatemala City, 2 or 3 hours away by ambulance. The staff did everything possible to conserve available resources, such as cleaning and reusing endotracheal tube stylets (there was only 1 in the hospital), making their own cotton balls, and using suction cup EKG leads rather than disposable stickers for the leads. Adjusting to the differences in practice was challenging for me. In our medical culture, labs and imaging guide treatment. Suddenly, I was unable to use these tools in my medical decision making process. I was also not able to tell patients to go see their doctor or a specialist for follow up; most of them did not have the money to see another doctor or undergo further testing.

I mainly worked in the Emergency Department (ED), but also spent a few days working in the outpatient clinic. Each day one person would be "Turno", which meant they were in charge of the ED as well as all of the patients admitted to the hospital (post-op patients, post partum patients, neonates, and medical patients). Turno is a 24 hour shift. The majority of the patients would arrive between 7am and 9pm, the hours that the Tuc-Tucs run. Those that came outside these hours were generally very ill, as they would have to find private (and expensive) means of transportation. On each of my 24-hour shifts, I saw about 15 patients in the ED. Many of these patients had problems such as vomiting and diarrhea, sprained ankles, cough, and lacerations. A few patient encounters were remarkable, I will discuss them below. 

I have been back in the United States for a week and a half now. Coming home from Guatemala during the holiday season is a strange transition. I couldn't help but look at all of the (admittedly exciting) products and services being offered, and think "oh, that money for that completely useless thing could pay for 'x' children's medicine, or food." I have been trying to adjust to life in the US, and accept the differences between life here and the poverty in places like Xela, trying to enjoy the luxury but maintain the perspective. In the midst of all of this enjoyment, I am reminding myself periodically that too much acceptance of this sort of disparity leads to complacency, which only further harms people.

The last couple of weeks in Xela were exciting. I worked hard on wrapping up the malnutrition project, and Cody and I got the suero (oral rehydration solution or ORS) going at the clinic. We got materials together and taught clinic staff how to mix up the bags of powder for families to make in their homes. All children with diarrhea, vomiting, or risk of dehydration can now be given enough suero to prevent dehydration, or treat mild to moderate dehydration. The families add one bag of ORS mix into one liter of water, and it is good for 24 hours. We can now make suero for 1/10 of the cost of the previous supply, which means that $1 allows us to make 20 liters of suero, which treats 5-10 children for a day. The project was well-received at the clinic, and may be shared with other clinics after we get things running smoothly at Primeros Pasos.

Now that I am at home, and see how much $1 and some hard work can buy, I have been trying to be careful about my spending. I have encouraged my friends and family to consider giving money to organizations such as Primeros Pasos (or Hope Through Healing Hands) to help support projects like this suero project or malnutrition treatment, and clean water initiatives. I'm not trying to advertise for any specific organizations, but I think that this sort of giving is extremely important. Here is a link to donations for Primeros Pasos, if you are interested. http://www.primerospasos.org/donate.

I would like to thank Hope Through Healing Hands for the opportunity to do such rewarding work in Guatemala. I hope that the work that was done was as helpful for the community as it was inspiring for me!

Note: Senator Frist  sits on the board of the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.

Helping Haiti not just survive but thrive

By Gary Edson

The stakes are high as Haitians struggle to resolve disputes over the accuracy of preliminary vote tallies from the November 28 national election. Haiti's next president and its parliament must be able to lead the nation from catastrophe to prosperity.  But it is equally important that the international community helps Haiti's new leadership establish an environment in which the nation can thrive.

Amid this latest crisis and the persisting pains for millions of earthquake victims, the approaching one-year anniversary of the January 12 disaster is a reminder of all that must still be done.  The world must redouble the efforts of the past year to tend to the many remaining urgent needs. At the same time, we must not lose sight of a need just as critical: creating the building blocks for long-term, vigorous economic expansion and job growth — the only real path to a stronger and better Haiti.

Indeed, the goal of the donor community should be to put itself out of the Haiti aid business. To do that, we need to be laser-focused on helping Haitians create and build their own livelihoods.  There are no straight lines from pain to promise in this equation, but Haiti has one important thing on its side: despite the devastation, the Haitian people are ready to write a positive new chapter in their country's troubled history.  We must help them do so by promoting job growth and economic opportunity— and then by getting out of the way.

As Paul Farmer, Partners In Health's founder and United Nations Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti said in a recent Foreign Policy column: "Haiti has 9.8 million people, and at least half were unemployed even before the earthquake. If we focused our efforts on the singular task of getting them jobs -- even if we did nothing else -- Haiti's reconstruction could be a success."

This is the focus that former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have given the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.  Since we began independent operations in May 2010, we have dedicated ourselves to making targeted, thoughtful grants and investments in four areas that are at the foundation of viable economic growth:

 

  • Restarting, expanding and creating new small businesses, in which women play a large role;
  • Supporting a transition from an underground economy to a formal one;
  • Bolstering job creation, particularly jobs providing direct social benefits; and
  • Empowering people, especially women and youth, with life skills and job training to embrace economic opportunity.

 

For example, in July the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund announced a $245,000 grant to INDEPCO, Haiti's largest network of garment micro-entrepreneurs, which provided an injection of capital that will enable 1,000 workers to complete 40,000 school uniforms.

In late November, the Fund, announced a $5.68 million partnership with MasterCard Foundation, YouthBuild International, and the Haitian NGO IDEJEN to support construction job training for at-risk young people. We've also just announced a grant to Architecture for Humanity in support of the Haitian Rebuilding Center in Port-au-Prince, which will provide design support and technical expertise to Haitian construction firms.

To date, the Fund has raised $52 million, of which nearly $20 million has been committed to organizations that support our mission of economic growth and empowerment. We seek to empower and catalyze — letting Haitians lead the way and promoting projects with ripple-effect potential.

We also have addressed selected humanitarian needs, playing a "gap-filling" role.  For instance, the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund responded to the recent cholera outbreak by redirecting a portion of a recently announced $1 million grant to GHESKIO, a 28-year-old Haitian healthcare organization, to its cholera treatment centers in Port-au-Prince.

Cholera is a disease of poverty and, like so many of the challenges Haitians face, the symptom of a much larger problem. It threatens lives, but also the island's ability to prosper. That's why we are remaining focused on the difficult but critical work of growing economic opportunity. In the coming weeks we will announce additional grants and investments, including financing for Haitian artisan exports and support for emergency medical training.

In the months since January 12, and for so many years before, the story of Haiti has been one of aid. The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund supports initiatives that will write very different stories — of Haitian mangoes sweetening Coca Cola beverages; of Haitian artisans producing crafts for Macy's; and of Haitian youth emerging from the shadows to obtain skills and jobs. These will be stories of the new Haiti: Haitians producing and exporting to thrive, rather than depending on aid to survive; stories not just of help, but of hope.

Gary Edson is CEO of the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund and former senior advisor on security and economic affairs to President George W. Bush. He co-led the development of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and also led the effort that established the Millennium Challenge Corporation to combat global poverty.

 

 

bowers 6

I have put my faith in my education and dedicated myself to continuing the effort of supporting people's health with the knowledge imparted to me over the past two years. Doubts certainly cross my mind as I question if what I am doing is effective, right or even necessary, whereas other times my faith is supported by the curative effects of medicine. There are nuances to the body which we cannot control, but we must rely on continued research to improve best practice techniques. Despite occasional skepticism and my desire to permit my body to heal without medicine, I will take cold and flu medication just to reassure myself that I support the practice that I preach. The advancement of science has helped us prolong life and alleviate illness, but occasionally signals are left unnoticed or the wrong test is ordered, despite the good intentions and full payment of diligence. Sometimes medicine can't control everything it encounters and last week entailed two very difficult patient cases who were both attended to properly, but something was missed.

The first day of last week brought a newborn child into the world who was the child and grandchild of two very close friends of the clinic. Being a boy in Guatemala, he was the prize of the family and of course incurred a higher cost from the birthing midwife. Tuesday the warmly wrapped baby was seen by a medical provider because he was crying a lot which worried the family, but everyone at the clinic received reassurances from the mother she had been told his crying was merely part of his adjustment to a whole new world. We received word that he had no fever, his lungs sounded good, heart sounds were regular, and there were no abnormalities upon exam. But modern medicine missed something with this newly born human being and with Thursday morning came the devastating news that he had passed during the night. Thursday morning was brutal for the clinic as we were slammed with patients, a new group of medical students started their first day at Primeros Pasos and there was a penetrating cloud of sadness pushing into the conscience of every team member at the clinic as we dwelled on the well-being of our close friends.

Almost everyone involved with Primeros Pasos attended the burial, which was held 10 hours after the baby's passing. The sadness of this death was not directly penetrating to my emotional core, but watching people I care about suffer so acutely pulled tears from my less than stoic eyes. The casket was tiny, emotions were high and the grandmother of the baby was as strong and beautiful as I've ever seen her. She was not visibly weeping, but her soul was drenched in tears as the trauma of losing her 2 day old grandson wore heavily upon her posture. We slowly followed the casket from the front gates to the back hill of the giant cemetery and the whole time Lauren, myself and another medical provider all watched the sadness, absorbed the pain and questioned what had the modern techniques of medicine missed on this precious child that could have prolonged his life. We wished we had more information or could review charts and have a long discussion trying to discover the cause of this death, but we were not working, we were mourning.

The other patient that pushed our emotions into a puddled mess was a 5 year old boy. He came from a town over an hour away and his mother spoke for him because the boy only spoke Kiche. I went in to see this patient alone, but I retreated within minutes for the assistance and expertise of the medical director. He was cute, just as most of the children we see at Primeros Pasos, and he was still shy at his young age, but quick to smile and laugh. As I was speaking to the mother, I realized his expressions were becoming more worried and he started to tear up. I asked him if he was scared and he nodded and I reassured him that there would be no shots or painful procedures and he brightened up. After his mother told me he had swelling near his neck, I began my exam while she finished telling me his story. There was a hard and barely mobile mass at the base of his neck on the right side and he flinched when I touched it. Upon examining his axillary region, I noticed a 3 inch scar, which his mother remembered to notify me was from when surgeons removed a mass 3 months ago. My heart dropped and I asked her what the doctors said about the mass after pathology and she didn't have any idea. She said they hadn't told her what the growth was and after the surgery they just sent him home without further treatment. No chemotherapy, no radiation and no extra patient education except a discharge three months ago and now I may have lied to this child about there not being any painful procedures, I just wouldn't be part of the process.

I palpated along his small chest between his armpit and the mass on his neck and found other small masses, then excused myself with my head low and desperately needing the doctor's second opinion. The medical director entered, examined the child and then we stepped out to discuss treatment options. It was either an ultrasound and biopsy or a direct referral to the hospital. Since he wasn't eating well because it was painful to swallow, we elected for the hospital. It was likely that this child had some form of cancer that was initially in his axillary lymph nodes and it spread before the surgeons could remove all of the cancer cells. Now the growth was in his cervical lymphatic chain and would be a much more complicated treatment, especially since he was having trouble swallowing. In August he had zero follow up care or pathology results to confirm any form of diagnosis, but he was back in the medical system 3 months later with swelling of other lymph nodes in his lymphatic chain. The medical director and I sent the mother and child to the hospital and hung our heads for a 10 minute discussion that basically entailed multiple derivations of, "What can we do?"

It was a week of what ifs and how comes as we watched children struggle. We pondered what type of care the child with the likely cancer would have received in the United States. What if he had the resources for prolonged treatment and follow up chemotherapy? Or how come children are suffering? How come nothing was picked up on the exam of the newborn? Because sometimes medicine misses, but oftentimes it misses something that we cannot yet see. Thankfully medicine usually remedies most ailments and with more research, better resources and continued diligence, we will continue to prolong life and alleviate illness, but for now we share condolences and look to the future from Xela Guatemala.

Subscribe to our newsletter to recieve the latest updates.