Another year of saving lives

It’s been a very difficult year in Haiti, with political turmoil, an earthquake, insecurity, a fuel crisis and Haitian refugees being expelled from Texas and returned to Haiti. These conditions create a perfect storm for children and families in need. St Damien Paediatric Hospital continues to provide life-saving care to some of the poorest children in the world.

This year 15-year-old Joseph will be able to enjoy Christmas at home with his family, after a difficult few years battling cancer. Joseph lives in Port-Salut, a coastal town on the Southern tip of Haiti, 221km from Port-au-Prince. He lives with his parents and younger brother Axel. His mum, Paula, runs a small shop and his father sells motorbike parts. Like many families in Haiti, they struggle to make ends meet.  

Last year Joseph began to feel swelling and intense pain in his left arm. Panicking, his mother took him to a local clinic, but he was quickly transferred to a hospital in the neighboring town, Les Cayes. Medical staff performed an xray which revealed a tumour.

“I didn’t know what a tumour was. I was hearing this word for the first time,” says Paula, still remembering the moment of distress. Joseph was transferred to St. Damien hospital, which has the only cancer unit in the whole country. Upon arrival, Joseph was seen to by Doctor Pascale Gassant, Head of the Oncology, who after tests, realised that Joseph’s illness was serious.

Joseph’s tumour was malignant, so the doctors had to act fast. Joseph was quickly transferred to St. Damien hospital in Port-au-Prince, which has the only paediatric cancer unit in the whole country. Upon arrival, Joseph was examined by Dr Pascale Gassant, Head of Oncology, who soon realised that his illness was very serious.

The prognosis was not good. Joseph needed immediate surgery to amputate his arm. Joseph broke down in tears when he heard the news.

“I didn’t want to go back home to Port-Salut, even less to school. I was afraid of not being liked by other children because of my amputated arm. I was also sad because I knew I wouldn’t be able to ride my bike again,” Joseph admits.

Paula had to stop working so she could be at her son’s bedside every day. With so many medical appointments, she decided to stay with family in the capital and borrow some money. Apart from financial worries, Paula has been concerned about the increasing insecurity in the country. At times it has been difficult for her to visit Joseph at the hospital. Road- blocks and chaos on the streets have only added to her distress.

Paula is grateful for St. Damien hospital and the care they continue to provide Joseph. Without such support he wouldn’t be alive today. Paula reveals, “It’s difficult to accept that this disease causes my son so much pain. However, I fervently hope that the care provided by the doctors will bear fruit and my son will overcome this cancer.”

Joseph continues to receive chemotherapy at St Damien hospital. This Christmas he will return home to Port-Salut. His family will count their blessings in what has been an extremely difficult year. Joseph is no longer the only child in his neighbourhood with an amputated arm. August’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake has left the region in a terrible state. Thanks to our wonderful supporters around the world, NPH will help 150 families rebuild their homes and livelihoods.

This Christmas our teams in Haiti will take a moment to reflect on the lives they have saved. Their greatest reward is seeing children like Joseph recover and go on to lead happy lives.

St Damien’s Director, Dr Jacqueline Gautier, says, “I’d like to say thank you to each and every one of you. You have contributed to something valuable. Thank you!”

The children, parents and staff at St Damien’s wish you a very Merry Christmas.

If you would like to support the oncology ward with a Christmas gift, check out our Christmas gifts below.