Margareth is a young mother who has fought against many challenges, especially for the life of her son, born under difficult conditions at St. Damien Hospital in the Neonatology Unit. May 21, 2021 - Haiti
Margareth puts into practice lessons learned from nurses and doctors to take appropriate care of the child.
Margareth is a 20-year-old Haitian mother. She smiles easily and has a joy for life, as well as a fierce desire to overcome life's hardships. She is in grade 9 and her favorite school subjects are mathematics and French. Margareth lives with her grandmother and two aunts in a two-room home that is made of corrugated metal, with bed sheets separating the rooms. Margareth lives in Jacomin, a poor area of Port-au-Prince. It is on the airport road two hours away from St. Damien Hospital when there is no traffic.
The Jacomin district has no drinking water, electricity, or sanitation facilities. To get drinking water, Margareth must walk over 30 minutes to the nearest distribution point, where residents pay US$0.36 per gallon of water. She was raised by two aunts and her grandmother because her mother died, and her father left without a trace. Celanise, her 54-year-old grandmother, owns a small soup business. She sells a bread soup, made with tomato paste, garlic, green onions, carrots, and spices. However, many of her grandmother’s customers are cashless passers-by and neighbors who often buy on credit but do not pay her back.
On good days, when people can afford to pay for the soup, Celanise makes US$15.00 a day. But there are bad days when she can't sell anything because no one goes outside due to the terror caused by the gangs. When the soup does not sell, Margareth goes days without eating and prays for a miracle. She cannot count on receiving help from her two aunts, who earn pittances from their manufacturing jobs.
“Jacomin is not peaceful,” says Margareth. “There is always heavy gunfire. Because of the gangs, people are forced to leave their homes and stay in other areas when trouble flares up. They return when there is less tension.” Depending on how dangerous things get, residents may spend from 3 days to one week outside of Jacomin.
Her home life wasn’t much better. When Margareth found that she was pregnant with twins, her world fell apart. She had received a strict upbringing, so her aunts and grandmother felt that the pregnancy disgraced the family. They knew she was a smart girl and had wanted Margareth to focus on her studies.
“It was difficult for them and for me to accept. I loved school, and I tried to keep attending, even though I was pregnant. Unfortunately, I had to give up the classes, especially when my classmates began to laugh about it.”
The father was her boyfriend Joel, a 25-year-old who she had been seeing for a year and a half. Joel only received a small, informal income from construction work, barely enough to provide for his own needs, let alone to support his partner and their baby. Even though Margareth was in love, the feelings were unfortunately not mutual. Joel abandoned Margareth, claiming that the babies were not his and she had been unfaithful.
A few days later, things became worse when her aunts evicted her from the house. “I moved into a neighbor’s home, but I was mistreated and they didn’t feed me.” After three months Margareth’s aunts allowed her back into the home. However, they continued to scold her, so much that she sometimes felt suicidal.
When Margareth went into labor prematurely, she had to be taken to the doctor quickly because she was expecting twins, which was a high-risk childbirth. Since Margareth had not visited a doctor at all during her pregnancy, the lack of prenatal care made the situation even riskier. Now she began to girth birth at night, a dangerous time when few dare to go out on the streets of Port-au-Prince.
When Margareth’s pain became unbearable, a friend agreed to go with her to find medical help. They took the risk of going outside to search for some way to reach a hospital. Fortunately, while walking they found a policeman who noticed Margareth’s condition and took her to St. Damien Hospital.
Margareth’s two boys were delivered one and half months prematurely by cesarean section upon arrival at St. Damien. Both babies were born with health problems. Unfortunately, one child died five days later from septic shock, caused by an infection he contracted in the uterus. The other boy was diagnosed with fetal hypotrophy, the result of slowed growth processes before birth. This can lead to various complications, such as cognitive disorders that can affect learning, memory, and problem-solving, as well as increasing the risk of developing metabolic disorders, such as insulin resistance syndrome during adulthood.
Gary, her premature baby son, required special care for 76 days in the neonatal ward, including 29 days on oxygen. Predicting how long a newborn baby will spend in this ward is difficult. However, when babies are born prematurely, the smaller the baby is, the longer the stay normally will be.
The neonatal department at St. Damien Hospital is made up of eight doctors, 21 nurses, and 11 auxiliaries. Doctor Lindsay Dorcelus is the head of this department, with 10 years of experience working there.
During the 76 days spent at St. Damien Hospital, Margareth did not receive any visits from her grandmother or aunts, since they believed it was the responsibility of the baby’s father to support Margareth and his newborn son. Since neither Margareth nor her boyfriend could pay for the hospital fees, St. Damien Hospital took care of all the costs. The hospital paid for the cost of the baby’s delivery, his extended neonatal care, medication, and examinations. Also included was the food provided to Gary, since all hospitalized children are fed while there.
In most cases, the parents of most babies born at St. Damien Hospital are unable to pay the hospitalization costs. The neonatology unit’s budget was US$695,329 in 2020, a year when the unit had 525 admissions. Babies can continue receiving care in outpatient clinics.
In other hospitals in Haiti, childbirth can cost up to US$2,900, an amount that many impoverished Haitians like Margareth often find almost impossible to pay. According to United Nations Development Program in Haiti, 44.9 percent of workers in Haiti live on less than US$1.25 per day.
Margareth keeps on smiling despite her hardships, giving her thanks to the neonatology staff for all the care that she and baby Gary received. She could not have afforded to pay for the delivery, care, examination fees, and medicine for her baby, so Margareth says, “St. Damien Hospital has a special place in my heart. I hope that this hospital will always exist to save other lives and continue to bring joy to the hearts of those who need it.”
Without St. Damien Pediatric Hospital, Magareth may not have survived the pregnancy, let alone have a baby boy. You can make a difference to the lives of mothers in Neonatology by giving a donation. Make an impact. Join the Life Savers. Give a donation.
Damarie Egide Voight St. Damien Hospital Communication Officer
You may be only one person in the world, but you may be all the world to one child.
—Fr. William Wasson