Global Health Laboratory Volunteer
Amie, at a follow-up visit

AMIE’S STORY:  How Lab Volunteers Improve Medical Care in Rural Haiti

People ask Bob Downey, Global Health Teams Medical Coordinator, “What keeps you going back to Haiti?” This is a hard question for him to answer. Then recently one name said it all: Amie.

In 2004, on Bob’s first trip to Haiti, Amie trailed into clinic holding her mother’s hand. Her mother told our intake staff how Amie had been so weak and was barely able to walk. Amie wasn’t playing with her friends anymore. Amie’s weakness made their usual three hour walk from the mountains take six, because she  “had to stop and rest so often”.

Our intake nurse quickly recognized that something was very wrong and sent Amie to the lab right away. “I was working in the lab that day and drew and tested Amie’s blood. I saw that she was dangerously anemic,” Bob recalled. Amie’s hemoglobin was the second lowest Bob had seen in his lab career, 1.7 g/dL. (In normal people hemoglobin is usually around 12 g/dL). Through further testing we found that Amie had malaria and severe malnutrition. The lab also identified the particular type of anemia Amie had. Knowing the type of anemia a patient has is important for the best treatment.

GHT doctors were able to treat Amie’s anemia and malaria. They also got her enrolled in a program for ongoing supplemental feeding. Amie’s mother continued to bring her to the clinic for follow-up visits. Over several months, Amie showed remarkable improvement.  The walk to clinic no longer took six hours and Amie was able to play normally again.

In June 2018, Bob ran into Amie on the porch at the clinic. Amie is now a thriving young adult, the same startling blue eyes; she had brought other people for care.

Amie’s name was changed for privacy but her story is among thousands. Since opening, the GHT labs have served over 15,000 patients.

Comprehensive lab testing with immediate results is a big deal in rural Haiti. For many patients, a trip to the clinic and back home can often mean six to ten hours of walking. In many places in Haiti, patients often do not come back on a later visit to get their lab results. This often prevents them from receiving a proper diagnosis and follow-up care. Because lab services are available at our remote clinics, our doctors can diagnose, treat and educate patients on the same visit. This can be lifesaving and life changing to those people who would otherwise never know what was wrong.

Bob Downey, Global Health Laboratory Volunteer
14 years later, Amie and Bob Downey. Amie returned to the Leon clinic to bring other people for care.

This same lab, unique in rural Haiti, also does testing that helps doctors treat other conditions. This greatly impacts the treatment of chronic diseases such as diabetes. In February 2011, our Leon Clinic was the first place to offer testing for hemoglobin A1c in the Grand’Anse province. Hemoglobin A1c is important for monitoring long-term control of blood sugar. Having these results available right away allows our doctors to better care for diabetic patients. On the same visit, we use those results to help teach patients about the importance of taking their medicines and proper diet. When diabetic patients keep their blood sugar in control, it reduces the risk of problems like kidney damage and blindness.

Over the years, we have witnessed improvement of chronic conditions such as diabetes and other conditions like anemia. The starting point for these improvements is the information provided by our lab.

Timely access to reliable lab results makes a huge difference everywhere, but especially in rural Haiti. It is one of the ways GHT changes lives. Amie is just one example but one we will never forget.

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