St. Damien Saves One Child’s Life and Restores His Family’s Hope
By providing affordable cancer care, NPH Haiti St. Damien Pediatric Hospital helps Eric recover from childhood leukemia and helps his parents save their home. November 11, 2019 - Haiti
Eric with his mother, Beatrice, who has remained by her son's side through his treatment and recovery.
Eric is a 10-year-old boy who lives with his parents and 12-year-old older sister in Miragoane, a provincial city 57 miles from Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. His mother Beatrice is a nurse and his father Pierre works in public transit.
Eric is a sweet boy: brave, lively, and energetic. He is the apple of many-an-eye, especially his doting parents. Eric is also smart. He loves to draw and play football and basketball. He sings in his parish choir and does well at school, where he is currently in fourth grade.
Since March 2019, however, Eric has resided at NPH Haiti’s St. Damien Pediatric Hospital in the oncology unit, where he is being treated for leukemia.
The symptoms came on very fast, Pierre recalls, and left Eric with various states of pain. “He was breathing well, but running out of steam quickly. He had the flu and intermittent fever; however, the greatest pain in his joints. He could no longer walk.”
His mother Beatrice, after seeing her child's health deteriorate, took him to see a doctor at St. Therese's Hospital in her hometown. A blood test revealed that Eric had very low hemoglobin blood levels (just four grams per deciliter). He was given medication, put on a special diet of iron-rich foods, and told to return in eight days.
Unfortunately, his condition worsened. During his follow-up visit, a second hemoglobin test found the level had dropped even further to three grams. It was at that moment the doctors at St. Therese referred Eric to the St. Damien oncology unit.
At St. Damien, Eric had a thorough physical examination and complete panel of medical tests, including bone marrow aspiration and an intrathecal. The examination revealed severe anemia (2.5 grams per deciliter), severe thrombocytopenia, and severe neutropenia. He had fever, conjunctiva, abdominal pain, lymphadenopathy, and hepatomegaly.
It was clear. Eric had leukemia.
Luckily for Eric, it was caught in time. From that moment on, he has received care from the safest hands in Haiti: the only hospital in the country treating childhood cancer.
Leukemia (also known as acute lymphocytic leukemia or ALL) is the most common form of cancer diagnosed at St. Damien Hospital. ALLs represent 25% of diagnoses and comprise nephroblastoma, retinoblastoma, lymphomas, germinal tumors, and rhabdomyosarcoma.
Leukemias usually begin in the bone marrow where there is a build-up of abnormal white blood cells that are not fully developed. These then turn into blasts, also known as leukemia cells. Of every 10 children undergoing treatment at St. Damien, 3.5 make a full recovery. Success is based on adherence to and compliance with the prescribed treatment regimen, plus the impact of genetics and environmental influences.
In other children’s hospitals in the country, the odds of recovery aren’t as high. In some facilities, it is less than 1 in 10. Many of public hospitals do not have the basic resources to cope with many illnesses, let alone treat cancer. This means St. Damien is often the only chance of survival for children in Haiti.
Eric has recently had his chemotherapy treatment suspended after developing a severe infection for which he receives a broad-spectrum of antibiotics. He is on the mend, however, and will restart a cycle of chemotherapy once the infection has cleared. Sometimes his sessions are delayed due to fever or infections as a result of his weakened immune system.
According to the psychologist in the oncology unit, children undergoing treatment should have very limited contact with the outside environment. Germs that would cause flu in healthy child can lead to pneumonia for a child with cancer. So, these children are restricted from participating in activities involving large crowds. Despite this, Eric remains positive and gets on well with other cancer patients in the hospital.
Unlike some other children in the St. Damien oncology unit, Eric is a “standard risk” patient, meaning he has a good chance of a complete recovery under typical conditions. Though he sometimes suffers from the side effects of his cancer drugs, nonetheless, he is very lively. He has a thirst for life and a smile that ignites the room. When he is feeling up to it, he eagerly participates in the many fun activities organized at the hospital.
Seeing their son respond well to treatment has been a blessing to Eric’s parents. His attitude has also been a source of amusement.
“There is a great improvement in his health,” says Pierre with a smile, “although sometimes Eric forgets that he is sick!”
Beatrice has also noted a big improvement in the last few weeks: Eric’s hemoglobin levels have risen to 11 grams per deciliter and he no longer experiences the intense pain he previously suffered. Beatrice is grateful to St. Damien. Not only has the St. Damien staff saved her son’s life, but it also saved her from possible financial ruin and the sale of her home.
“Thanks to St. Damien, I am able to keep my family home and have a place to sleep at night. Otherwise, I would have had to sell it to pay for the care, which is very expensive elsewhere,” says Beatrice.
Eric’s father adds, “The staff are welcoming and we are satisfied with the care our son receives. I would love to see cancer care for children in other parts of the country, so that more children can be helped. St. Damien’s has saved our son’s life and we are so grateful for the support.”
Interested in learning more about our programs at St. Damien Pediatric Hospital? Visit nph.org.
Children’s names have been changed to protect their privacy.
Damarie Egide Voight Communication Officer
You may be only one person in the world, but you may be all the world to one child.
—Fr. William Wasson