There are times when our patients’ life stories bring tears to the eyes of both Cherlie and me. One such episode occurred recently and I’d like to tell you about it. A man and his wife had come to the clinic a few weeks ago with their infant daughter. She had a large growth on her right upper arm and one day it started to bleed spontaneously. They managed to stop the bleeding but over the next few days she became weak and pale, so they brought her to see us. After hearing their story, I examined the little girl in her mother’s arms, her listless eyes looking up at me without a sound coming from her throat. She was, quite literally, as pale as a ghost and when I checked her hemoglobin, it was 2.9 (normal being more than 12). It was evident that she had bled a lot and I thought it was a wonder she was even alive! She had a large, firm growth on her right shoulder and arm that looked to me to be a congenital vascular lesion called a hemangioma. Her parents were convinced it had developed as a result of a vaccine she had received when she was a few months of age. Whether that was true or not, the important thing was to get her admitted to the hospital in Jérémie so she could receive a blood transfusion. So, we suggested that her parents take her down to the hospital immediately. They said they weren’t prepared to go that day, but would take her down the following day.
We reluctantly watched them leave with their little girl, not knowing if we would actually see them again. But, true to their word, when we stopped by the hospital the next day, there was the mother with her anemic daughter. The hospital physicians had repeated the hemoglobin and it was slightly higher, so they decided not to give her any blood, but they placed her on iron and vitamins. They also felt that the arm lesion represented a hemangioma, but wanted to do some further testing. So they planned to keep her for several days, until her anemia was better, and then she could follow up with us at our clinic. They actually kept her for two weeks and we checked on her frequently, always finding one or both of her parents by her side. Little did we realize that her siblings were paying a price for her illness.
This past Thursday we saw the little girl again in the clinic and both parents were with her. However, they also brought one of their other children, a seven-year-old daughter. They said she had lost a lot of weight lately, had abdominal pain and weakness. They thought some of her symptoms were related to their being away at the hospital with the other child. She apparently hadn’t been eating well and had been sad without her parents. I asked how many children the couple had and they said five. Then I asked who did the cooking for the children while the parents were away and they said “the oldest child”. Well, it turns out the oldest child is only ten years old and she had responsibility for herself and the other children, aged 8, 7 and 5. There was a woman who came to the house to sleep each evening, but otherwise, the children were on their own. The father went back and forth from home to the hospital (which is a 4-5 hour walk away), checking on them periodically. I almost cried just thinking about that poor little 10 year old girl, with all the household responsibilities for herself and three siblings, while her parents were busy trying to save the life of her precious little sister. What a difficult choice for parents to make and what heavy burdens are put on small children in this country. It makes me realize again how important it is to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, who helps bear these burdens and gives wisdom in difficult circumstances. How the Lord loved children such as these! “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, and put his hands on them and blessed them (Mark 10:14-16).