People ask Bob Downey, Global Health Teams Medical Team 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, barely able to walk and was not playing with friends anymore. She said Amie’s weakness made their usual three hour walk from the mountains take six, because Amie “had to stop and rest so often”.
Our intake nurse quickly recognized that something was very wrong and immediately sent Amie to the lab . “I was working in the lab that day and drew Amie’s blood. I could tell immediately 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 and examinations, we identified that Amie also had malaria and severe malnutrition as well as the particular type of anemia she had. Knowing the type of anemia a patient has is important for optimal treatment.
GHT doctors were able to treat Amie’s anemia and malaria and get her enrolled in a program for ongoing nutritional support. Amie’s mother continued to bring her to the clinic for follow-up visits over several months and she 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 at the clinic, 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 laboratories have served over 15,000 patients.
Comprehensive lab testing with immediate results is a big deal for patients where a trip to the clinic and back home can often mean six to ten hours of walking through the mountains. In many places in Haiti, because of the burden of getting to a health facility, patients often do not return to get results and receive proper follow-up care. Because of laboratory services at our remote clinics, our doctors and nurses 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.
This same lab, unique in rural Haiti, also provides rapid results that greatly impacts the management of chronic diseases such as diabetes. In February 2011, the GHT Leon Clinic was the first clinic to offer testing for hemoglobin A1c in the Grand’Anse province. Hemoglobin A1c is important for monitoring long-term control of blood sugar. Having Hemoglobin A1c results quickly available allows our doctors to better educate diabetic patients about diet and the importance of taking their medicines, resulting in better control of their diabetes and reducing the likelihood of long term complications like kidney damage and blindness. Over the years, we have witnessed improvement of chronic conditions such diabetes as well as other conditions such as anemia. The starting point for the improvement is our lab.
Access to timely, reliable laboratory 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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