Nonprofit makes strides to improve healthcare in Haiti
Zoe Mathews, media lab intern, Emerson College 2016
Haiti Cardiac Alliance is a nonprofit organization that works with partner groups to make life-saving cardiac surgery available to children in Haiti. The organization has its roots in Partners in Health, a global-health group with vested interest and history in Haiti. Owen Robinson, formerly of Partners in Health, started working on the expansion of the project and saw the future of the program as its own nonprofit with vast growth potential.
In June 2013, Haiti Cardiac Alliance took its first breath as an individual entity with Robinson at the helm and continued collaboration with Partners in Health, among other organizations.
“It was really just taking the address book and trying to turn it into something,” said Robinson. “The enthusiasm and growth has been amazing.”
When Robinson was operating exclusively out of Partners In Health, they were handling roughly 20-30 cases a year. Now that he operates from Haiti Cardiac Alliance his team diagnoses about 80 cases every time they go to Haiti, once every other month. The kids diagnosed with cardiac problems are placed on a triaged list of most severe and definitely needing surgery, to those who are stable enough to wait a little while longer. Haiti Cardiac Alliance and its partners hope to arrange surgery for 200 children over the next year.
Every case is different, and for Robinson, defining average is nearly impossible. His most recent trip was a parable for the unique experience afforded to those working in global health. Take a look at the journey Robinson took with Jonathan- a teenage boy who went into severe heart failure just weeks before he was scheduled for surgery.
10 p.m.: After hearing of Jonathan’s severe heart failure, Robinson took the first flight he could find to Santiago, Dominican Republic.
2 a.m.: Robinson arrived in Santiago, booked a rental car, and began making preparations for Jonathan to receive care at Hospital Infantil Arturo Grullon, in Santiago.
Later that morning: Jonathan, being too sick to travel the 12 hour bus trip from Port-au-Prince in Haiti to Santiago, was shuttled by ambulance to the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where Robinson picked him up. Jonathan’s parents, unable to secure passports in time, signed off on his release and said their goodbyes knowing that their son had a 50 percent chance of surviving surgery.
That evening: Jonathan was checked into the ICU at the hospital in Santiago, and put on a stabilizing IV to strengthen him for surgery.
The next few days: While Jonathan stabilized under medical supervision, his sister obtained an emergency passport and arrived to support him through the entire process.
The surgery: Surrounded by medical staff, Jonathan received surgery for severe mitral and aortic regurgitation that was caused by a rheumatic fever he had several years ago. The surgery was performed by Dr. Rodrigo Soto and his team from International Children’s Heart Foundation (ICHF), and financially sponsored by the Chadasha Foundation.
The recovery: Jonathan’s surgery was a success- he and his sister remained in the Dominican Republic for two weeks until he was deemed strong enough for travel, then they returned to Haiti. Robinson checked in with Jonathan on his last trip to Haiti, and reported a strong recovery.
Robinson explained that there is only so much more that can be done to effectively expand that type of program where kids are traveling such an expansive distance to receive the care they need and deserve. That is why Partners in Health took the next step to opening a hospital in Haiti- the Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais provides primary care for the town of Mirebalais and neighboring communities, secondary care for communities around Port-au-Prince, and an education structure for the next generation of medical professionals in Haiti.
The teaching hospital officially opened in June, and Robinson continues to collaborate with them and other hospitals in Haiti to work toward making quality open-heart surgery available in Haiti. Along with diagnosing more children, his next trip to Haiti includes a meeting with staff in the new hospital to assess the situation and see what still has to be done before surgery can be carried out.