In every hospital in the developed world, there is a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit filled with incubators. These machines give a second chance to infants, who, for whatever reason, exited the womb prematurely. Incubators keep babies warm, ward off germs that immature immune systems can’t yet fight, and provide oxygen, medicine, and nutrition when needed. Without an incubator, it can be difficult to keep such fragile preemies alive and healthy.
This is why multiple hospitals from cities and towns regularly send infants to St. Boniface, the home of the only incubator in the southern peninsula outside the capital of Port-au-Prince. NICU nurses at St. Boniface point out to all visitors that their sole incubator is serving millions of people. Standing in a tiny heated room closed off from the rest of the hospital, they are surrounded by preemies in cribs tucked into every available space. When an infant is strong enough, they are often transferred to emergency room beds nearby, dwarfed by an adult bed but still under the nurses’ watchful care, to make room for other preemies.
On a recent visit, there was a tiny 28-week-old baby occupying the one incubator. The nurses, when asked, pointed to three other babies resting in the NICU that they would like to have in incubators if they had them. Even though it may seem bare-bones compared to hospitals in more developed countries, this NICU, along with the specialized neonatal care training of St. Boniface nurses and doctors, saves many babies’ lives.
Twenty-five-year-old Nancy recently gave birth to a baby boy in the town of Cote de Fer, a bone-jarring one-hour drive away from St. Boniface Hospital. But the clinic in Cote de Fer was unable to provide the essential neonatal care that her child, Widley, born weak and tiny at only 29 weeks old, would need to survive. She and Widley were sent to St. Boniface late at night, soon after the birth. The St. Boniface medical team worked around the clock treating Widley, and after several weeks, he left the NICU a healthy infant.
But lack of access to any neonatal care is still a major problem in southern Haiti- not every premature baby is born within an hour of St. Boniface’s incubator. So is a lack of equipment and training, which is why St. Boniface is lucky to have the resources we do. We are also lucky that two new incubators just set sail from Miami bound for the St. Boniface Hospital. When the NICU nurses heard this, they danced for joy! With each piece of new equipment, each newly trained nurse, we try to expand and improve our neonatal care for this underserved population, so that every baby survives the first hours, days, and weeks of life and grows up strong.