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A Diagnosis, a Miracle Baby, and a Life Spent Giving Back

St. Boniface’s own Miss Ste. Helene Fleuresaint recalls a time before she was part of the hospital staff—that dark day 12 years ago when she sat in a Fonds-des-Nègres clinic just after she received the news that she was HIV positive.

“I was devastated.  I didn’t believe it. I thought there had to be some kind of mistake,” Miss Fleuresaint explains. Stigma against people with HIV/AIDS was, and still is, strong in Haiti. “When people found out, they wrote it on my house. They wouldn’t even sit next to me or my children.”
 
 Learning to Live with a Diagnosis
 
A year earlier, one of Miss Fleuresaint’s four children had become ill and died. When she was diagnosed she realized her son most likely succumbed to complications from AIDS. The revelation that she had probably passed the virus on to him during labor or breastfeeding inspired Miss Fleuresaint to become militant about her own treatment.
 

SBHF’s SIDALE program allows people to live and not be defined by their disease.

 
Then, five years after first learning of her illness, Miss Fleuresaint found out she was pregnant again. What should have been a joyous time for the expectant mother was marred by the lingering fear that she would transmit HIV to another child.  But there was hope. Miss Fleuresaint came to St. Boniface Hospital for prenatal care. She also enrolled in our HIV/AIDS treatment program, SIDALE. Through this program she received comprehensive counseling and treatment to help prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus.
 
Thanks to her strict adherence to her recommended treatment plan, Miss Fleuresaint’s new son was happily born HIV-negative. “My miracle baby,” she lovingly calls him.
 
After his birth, SBHF continued to provide Miss Fleuresaint with counseling and support.  Staff helped her make choices that were right for her and her newborn: deciding whether to formula- or breastfeed, and getting the newborn on antiretroviral medications to ensure he did not contract the disease in his early days of life.
 
Miss Fleuresaint’s commitment to her family’s and her own health is evident. As a new mother, she would sometimes walk over three hours from her town to St. Boniface to pick up ARV treatments for herself and her newborn son. “I’ve received treatment here ever since,” she says.
 

 

Nurse Rose Verline Jean Baptiste takes a blood sample as part of SBHF's standard HIV/AIDS testing protocol.

Giving Back and Helping Others

Three years later, Miss Fleuresaint decided she wanted to give back to the hospital that delivered her ‘miracle.’ She began working as an onsite facilitator for SIDALE—the same program Miss Fleuresaint originally enrolled in as a patient.

Miss Fleuresaint helps newly enrolled patients cope with their shifting circumstances and reassures them that HIV is, by no means, a death sentence. She accompanies patients to the onsite psychologist and provides support for people who are in the terrifying and overwhelming situation that she, herself, was in just a few years earlier.

“I can relate to the patients I see; I understand their experience, and I can tell them first-hand why they should keep up with all aspects of their treatment,” she says. “I love providing this kind of support to patients who are in the same situation I was in, and showing them that life can go on. SBHF’s SIDALE program allows people to live and not be defined by their disease.”

Miss Fleuresaint has the unique experience of being both patient and staff of the SIDALE program. With your support, she is providing compassionate care for people with HIV/AIDS and spreading hope from her own perspective as someone living, and thriving, with the same disease.