Saving a Life: Meet Olken Foncime, a Haitian Orphan

 

By Jenny Dyer

 

  

           

     

Christian Gilbert, M.D., Associate Medical Director of International Children's Heart Foundation (www.babyheart.org) in Memphis, TN connected with Senator Frist about a year ago to let us know the great work he was doing: providing pediatric cardiac surgical services and education to the children and health care providers in developing countries around the world.

 

We invited the International Children’s Heart Foundation to join the HTHH Tennessee Global Health Coalition, and he and his wife attended our first Gathering at the First home September 29, 2009. I had been apprised by Senator Frist of a situation in Haiti, where a young orphan, Olken, was suffering from congenital heart disease, Tetralogy of Fallot, and would likely die without immediate surgery. In meeting Dr. Gilbert for the first time, I asked him what the likelihood of his reaching this child in rural Haiti would be.

 

I’ll let Christian relay the rest of the story through his letter:

 

Jenny,
This story begins with a letter to Senator Frist which you answered and as a result invited me and ICHF to participate in the HTHH foundation. That led to an invitation to the gathering at the Senator's house. There I found out about this Haitian orphan in need of heart surgery from you.

 

I checked it out with my director and the director of the program in Dominican Republic, where I was headed for a two week mission and got the OK to help him on our mission to the DR later in the week. That set the wheels in motion and before too long I had pictures of him and his caretakers and knew his name, Olken Foncime.

 

He arrived in the Dominican Republic on Wednesday the 7th of October with his guardians, Marc, Leslie, and Pauline. When I first met him I was stunned at the profound degree of cyanosis, and equally impressed by his gentle sweet demeanor. He quickly became everyone's favorite. He was a high risk surgery with an estimated mortality risk of 15-20%. I reminded myself that it was 100% without it. He needed some things done before we could operate on him such as antibiotics and exchange transfusions because his hematocrit was 80, with normal being around 40. His blood coagulation was so abnormal the anesthesiologists was reluctant to put him to sleep for the IV line to do the exchange transfusion. Because he was so sick it was decided that rather than try a complete repair which carried a very high mortality risk I would do a shunt procedure and defer the total repair for a time when he was not so sick and had a better chance of survival.

 

On Monday October 12th he was taken for a Blalock Taussig shunt. He did very well with the operation and for the first time in his life he had pink nail beds and lips. In the picture, he is bravely holding onto his teddy bear and heart just a few hours after his surgery.

 

 

      

 

He is now 3 days post op and is starting to open up and smile and eat some food. All of his IV lines and drainage tubes are out and he has been transferred to the regular ward. It is my expectation he will be ready to return to the orphanage on Saturday or Sunday. I hope that some time in 2010 we will be able to bring him back for a total repair. We all have been blessed by this child and his caregivers who demonstrate amazing love and selflessness. God put us together and I give him all the glory as we are simply his servants here on earth. He clearly has a plan for this beautiful little boy. Thank you for bringing his story to my attention. God Bless.

 

Christian

 

…Sometimes little miracles happen through the most simple of circumstances. Building partnerships is crucial for saving lives, like Olken's, around the world. This is just the beginning of what is possible with a robust, well-connected coalition...

    

News travels fast in small rural communities, and the word about the women's clinic is quickly getting around. Women from the community women's groups have been bringing their sisters, daughters and neighbors. Each patient exam has been taking about an hour, as it includes a full history and physical. The appointment also includes an explanation of female anatomy, how a Pap smear is preformed, and how it is used to check for the changes caused by human-papilloma virus (HPV) which can cause cervical cancer. Many of the patients have never had a pelvic exam or Pap smear so teaching has become a large part of every appointment.

Primeros Pasos's mission includes increasing education about methods of disease prevention. Though it is common practice that Guatemalans only come to the clinic once already very ill, Primeros Pasos women's education program is doing a great job promoting wellness and annual check-ups. Some patients have come in for symptoms of anemia related to heavy and irregular menstrual bleeding, however many healthy feeling women have come in specifically for their Pap smear and annual physical. Currently, the Primeros Pasos clinic has the ability to process a handful of laboratory tests in house. Unfortunately, the Pap smear is not one of them. Where as many of Primeros Pasos volunteers are being trained to identify intestinal parasites from stool samples, or run different blood tests, a Pap smear slide must be read by a trained cytopathologist. Therefore, the Pap smears are being processed at a lab in the city of Xela. Once a week I take my bundle of Pap smears to the lab in the city. Each Pap smear costs 25 Quetzales, which is about the equivalent of three American dollars.  It's amazing how three dollars can make such a difference in the lives of these women.

Cervical Cancer has been the hot topic the last two weeks. Rightfully so, as it deserves a lot more attention than it ever gets. In the United States, we almost never hear of deaths from cervical cancer because we have so many methods of early detection already in place. However, according to the American Cancer Society global cancer statistics report (2002), cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women worldwide. In select countries, such as Guatemala, cervical cancer ranks even higher as the number one cancer among women with a reported rate of less than 10% of women receiving regular screening (Ministry of Public Health and Social Aid of Guatemala, 2003). Many myths and misconceptions about cervical cancer exist in the rural communities. The last two weeks I have helped teach phase two of the women's education curriculum, which focuses on women's health issues such as uterine, ovarian and cervical cancer. In the past many, most women have lumped all the aforementioned together as the same "women's cancer" that is rarely spoken about due to fear and stigma. Through the women's education program, the myths around cervical cancer are slowly being unraveled and addressed.

The patients are not the only ones inquiring about cervical cancer. The buzz among the Guatemalan medical students prompted a lunch lecture dedicated specifically to the topic. Upon request, I will now be running a weekly lunch lecture on the essentials of obstetrics and gynecology. The new group of medical students is inquisitive and hard-working. They have already made huge leaps and bounds in their time at the clinic. I am working closely with the two female medical students to teach them to perform women's health exams. It is very culturally taboo for females to be treated by male healthcare providers for any issues related to women's health or pregnancy. So although I am foreign, my presence is accepted because I am female. Each day I hope to slowly build my patients' trust, which is the biggest thing that you can ask for as a foreigner in the Valley of Palajunoj, in a country like Guatemala that is still feeling the aftermath and distrust of a 36 year civil war.

For More Photos, Go to:  http://primerospasoswomensclinic.shutterfly.com/

Pretty sure I have fleas. Jim found these two little guys buried deep in my hair and wriggling up itches everywhere. Now I learn that the previous neonatologist had also acquired some type of stow-away and so would not sit on the mom's beds or wear his white coat thru maternity. But what am I to do? The mom's wait longingly as I speak to the woman in front of them. The want attention for their babies and for their concerns. They delight when the blond mazungu doctor hugs them and stops to visit. Maybe if I were here long term it would be different, but for just six weeks, though its not very lady like - I guess I'll have fleas.
The past two weeks have been an absolute whirlwind. After overnighting in Antigua I took a small bus for five hours up the winding mountains into the western highlands, finally arriving in Quetzaltenango. Quetzaltenango was and still is a principle center of Maya Ki'che and is often referred to by its Ki'che name Xelaju and abbreviated to Xela. Xela is a large city seemingly disconnected from the surrounding cities but by small winding dirt roads which the revamped and repainted yellow school buses ride along. Most women in the city still dress in traditional Mayan clothing, which becomes even more prevalent as you head out into the country side. Every morning we take the unmarked school bus from the bus stop at the Calvario Church into the mountains of Tierra Colorada Baja. Outside the church, venders sell flowers freshly cut from the mountains and beans and eggs out of street charts.
Today, Charlie Peacock moderated a panel on How Artists Can Help Charities, especially given the current economic climate -- when money is tighter than ever. Panelists included Billy Cerveny, Brite Revolution; Kenny Alphin, Love Everybody; Jenny Dyer, Hope Through Healing Hands; Andrea Howat, Hanson’s Walk/Tom’s Shoes; Derek Webb, Blood:Water Mission; and Barrett Ward, Mocha Club.
Global Health Leader Amelia Wood arrived a couple weeks back at Kijabe with her husband Jim and baby Josiah. She is serving as a neontologist there, bolstering health care delivery and training.

We have now been in Kijabe a full week. We arrived to homemade zucchini bread and an invitation to watch "So you think you can dance" from the wonderful Davis family (our neighbors just below in the Sitaplex guest house). Not having a TV at home, we were way less in the know than some of the long term missionaries here. Kijabe is like summer camp for doctors. And although there may be some sacrifices in being in Africa (like broccoli free of aphids) our overwhelming sentiment is, "man, don't we feel at home!"
September 30, 2009

by Jenny Eaton Dyer, Ph.D.

Last night we had a really fantastic Global Health Gathering at the Frist home. Welcoming all Nonprofits who were dedicated to Global Health issues (or Millennium Development Goals) in Tennessee, we had an array of groups who attended who had traveled from as far away as Johnson City or Memphis.

These great groups, all who have joined the Tennessee Global Health Coalition, provide aid and service around the world. They provide beds, shoes, education and clean water for the world's poorest. Some offer leadership training, mental health services and a haven for child soldiers. We have groups who fight trafficking in all forms, and we have groups who train community health workers to provide better health care in forgotten corners of the world.

A UMNS Feature
By Tim Tanton*
September 25, 2009

Dr. Bill Frist was flying low in a Cessna Caravan above the treetops in southern Sudan, an area routinely bombed by government forces during the country’s ongoing civil war.

The year was 1998. Frist, a U.S. senator, was entering Sudan surreptitiously as part of a medical mission sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse. Sudan had no diplomatic relations with the United States, which had identified the African country as a sponsor of terrorism.

In the remote Liu area, Frist flew over a site where bombing had claimed a rural hospital.

“It had been destroyed,” he recalls. “There was fighting all around.” However, his team was able to work in a makeshift clinic.

“I came back the next year, the fighting had stopped,” Frist, 57, says. “I came back the next year, and there was a little tiny village, maybe a hundred … huts there. And then I came back the next year, and all of a sudden the church, which had been bombed, was blossoming. There was a school there. There was a hospital there. Nobody was fighting.

“So then I said that, basically, there is something to this – that medicine or health is a currency for peace,” he says.

That idea became the foundation for his global health nonprofit, Hope Through Healing Hands. For the surgeon and former U.S. Senate majority leader, health care has a role to play in building communities – and building peace.

“You don’t go to war with somebody who has just saved the life of your child,” he explains.

For FULL VERSION: CLICK HERE.

September 24, 2009

Senator Frist was the Commitments Presenter in an Infrastructure Breakout Sessions Seminar: Infrastructure of Recover: Good Jobs and Smart Growth.

Global recession has slowed private sector investment and caused rampant job loss. In response, governments around the world are investing in economic recovery though forward-looking public works projects. This new generation of infrastructure investments -- from broadband networks to transit systems to clean energy technology -- is laying the ground word for global deployment of advanced technology and private sector innovation. The response to to the economic crisis has set the stage for a new generation of smarter infrastructure empowered by better use of information and more efficient use of resources. Outdated development patterns are being "leap-frogged." This session provides an opportunity to reflect on progress one year into the economic crisis and to examine the relationship between the public and private sectors.

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