West Tennessee Haiti Partnership

Pills R Us

One sees many things on the streets of Port au Prince, a crazy jumble of humanity and all manner of items for sale. One of our favorites is the man carrying a huge bucket, with an inverted cone of medications. The pills are packaged in blister packs, so the vendor has sheets and sheets of plastic blister packs in yellow, pink, blue, green, and white, even brown, displayed as a 4 foot tall cone shaped bulletin board, if you will. We never got close enough to read the names of the medications, but I imagine you can buy antibiotics, blood pressure medicine, cough and cold remedies, and probably things you never thought of. Also spotted on the streets for sale were stereo equipment, DVDs, handsome wooden furniture, plastic bins/buckets, mattresses, sugar cane (this comes in huge 4 foot lengths), fruit(melons of all kinds), bedframes, books, shoes, clothing including mens’ suits, baby strollers. Its like Wal-Mart, but streetside. We spotted a baby stroller that we thought about buying, because we needed to make a seat for Margaret Vincent. Margaret is hydrocephalic, about 2 years old, and was left at St Vincents during one of our previous trips in 2009. See earlier posts about her story. She is one of the many handicapped orphans brought to the school by their parents. When I brought Dr Jeanne Jemison, a developmental pediatrician, to Haiti with me, my hope was that she would help me work with several particular students, and Margaret Vincent was one of them. Dr Jeanne examined Margaret, who spends her days in a crib upstairs at the school. She is well cared for, but severely handicapped so that she cannot sit up by herself, or even hold up her oversized head which looks too big for her small body. The matrons who care for her try to prop her up in a wheelchair, but she basically lays across the seat with her head hanging off one arm of the wheelchair, and her legs across the other arm of the chair. She holds her arms bent tightly at the elbows, but with stretching one can straightem her arms almost completely. She responds with a smile when you talk to her or stroke her face. Over the course of the week, Dr Jeanne, Clark (one of the CBU nurses) and I were scouting for adaptive materials to help this little girl. Dr Jeanne wanted to make some splints to help her hold her arms out straight, to keep them from becoming permanently contracted. In conversation with the school’s orthopedic doctor, we found some plastic splint material we could use. How to form it so it would fit her arm, and not cut into her skin? Should we cover it with gauze, or leave it as is? We consulted an occupational therapist who happened to be staying at the same guest house. She recommended we leave the plastic uncovered, since it is manufactured with small holes in it, to allow the skin to breathe. We visited the school’s brace shop, and spoke with the workers there who make braces and prosthetic appliances for the students, with simple tools and what looks like 1950s machinery. Dr Jeanne said the place reminded her of Campbell Clinic in the 1950s, where her father, an orthopedic surgeon, worked at one time. We had measured Margaret’s arms and needed a splint 6 inches by 2 and 1/2 inches, for each arm. They cut the material for us. We worried about the sharp plastic corners. No problem, they said, and promptly rounded the corners with a lathe. So obvious! Our next treasure to find was an old car seat, actually gathering dust in a shed behind the guest house. The guest house is owned and operated by Healing Hands for Haiti, an organization which works on rehabilitating injured and disabled people! So they have lots of adaptive equipment, walkers, canes, etc, just lying around. Dr Jeanne spotted a car seat, the kind for an older child, with straps to hold Margaret sitting upright, and a back tall enough to support her entire trunk, much better than the wheelchair. Gail Buck, the proprietor of the guest house, kindly let me have the car seat for Margaret. All that remained was something to support her neck. Jeanne said what we needed was one of those airplane neck pillows that people travel with. Kristen graciously donated her pillow to the cause. The final result was magnificent. Margaret can now sit up in her car seat, strapped in so she does not fall out, with a pillow to support her head. She can see better and interact with the other children much better. She will be at less risk for skin pressure sores since she isnt lying in the crib all day. Dr Jeanne instructed the matrons carefully, through an interpreter, how to apply the splint with an Ace wrap, and to leave them on only at night. As Clark was working with Dr Jeanne to put all this together for Margaret, he made a comment (reported to me later) which will stay with me for a long time. He said that he thought that the reason he was put on this earth, was to care for children like Margaret.

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