In April 2010, Amy Denero, RN, a mother/baby nurse for more than 40 years, traveled with a volunteer medical obstetrics team to Haiti to help deliver babies and provide much-needed neonatal expertise after the country’s devastating earthquake. In the weeks following the earthquake, many expectant mothers were left homeless and malnourished, often giving birth to underweight, premature infants in the worst possible conditions.
For a week, Amy and her team worked out of the Adventist Hospital in Port-au-Prince. During that time, they never left the hospital. They slept and ate there, and spent every waking moment saving the lives of mothers and children, who might not have survived had they not been there. (UNICEF reports that Haiti has the highest rates of infant, under-five and maternal mortality in the Western hemisphere. Diarrhea, respiratory infections, malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS are the leading causes of death.)
Adventist Hospital is nothing like hospitals here in the United States. Ants and cockroaches shared space with patients. Temperatures hit 110 degrees. In a January 18, 2010 story, ABC News described post-earthquake Haiti as “one of the most hostile places on Earth to give birth.” Yet, in Port-au-Prince alone, roughly 7,000 babies are born each month.
On her first day in Haiti, Amy helped deliver a baby, who, sadly, did not survive. After witnessing that first tragedy, Amy became more determined than ever that it would not happen again under her watch. The next day, a 24-year-old expectant mother named Sabrina came to Amy’s team in labor. Thankfully, this time the baby survived. Baby Ashley came five weeks early and would have died without expert neonatal care.
During the week Amy was in Haiti, she spent every day with Sabrina. Amy, also a certified lactation consultant, taught Sabrina how to breastfeed, since formula was not an option. The hospital did not have breast pumps, so Amy manually expressed Sabrina’s breasts every three hours, day and night. Sabrina had milk by her third day, which is virtually unheard of for a preemie delivered via c-section.
Although Amy knew she could not stay longer than a week, she vowed to keep in touch. And she has. The two speak on the phone three times a week, and use Facebook to connect. Not only has Amy provided Sabrina with moral support and medical advice, she also supports her financially, sending money each month to help pay for expenses.
Amy says her dream is to someday be able to sponsor Ashley’s college education. Of course, that day is a long way off, so right now Amy continues to remain focused on doing whatever she can to see this young family survive.
Although the tragedy in Haiti has brought so much sadness to people all around the world, it is stories of healthcare heroes like Amy that help us all find some shimmer of light and hope in all of the darkness and despair.