I would have given her the skin off my back if it were possible.
Naomi Desai means that literally. When her daughter Taina was badly burned over 30% of her body by an oil lamp, the seven-year-old desperately needed a skin graft in order to heal. But with so much of her body already burned, there were limited areas to take skin from for the graft.
In stepped Direct Relief and Zimmer, who donated a skin graft mesher and dermatome device to help save Taina’s life. This device allows our team to take a small piece of skin from Taina’s leg and increase its surface area by nearly nine times, so that a small piece of skin can cover a large area of her burns.
When the mesher arrived at St. Boniface Hospital, a member of the surgical team carried it into the Operating Room, announcing, “There’s a gift here for you, Dr. Luther!” Luther Ward, our head surgeon, replied, “It’s a gift for all of Fond-des-Blancs.” This tool—not a high-tech piece of robotic surgical equipment, but a 50-year-old kind of technology that is manually operated with a lever—has never been available before in Fond des Blancs.
Since Dr. Ward’s arrival as St. Boniface’s first permanent surgeon, the hospital has become the de-facto burn treatment center for the southern peninsula. Taina, whose family lives near the southwestern city of Aux Cayes, first went to a hospital there after she was burned.
That hospital did not have the capacity to care for burn victims, and so sent her to Port au Prince. After visiting four different hospitals, a doctor finally referred Taina and Naomi to St. Boniface, knowing that we have the capacity to care for burn cases.
Two months after being burned, 10 days after arriving at St. Boniface Hospital, and three days after the new skin mesher was delivered, Taina went in for her first surgery. She needed a second surgery a week later to finish covering her burned areas with meshed skin.
Finally, with the help of the skin mesher and St. Boniface’s surgical team, Taina is starting to heal. Her eyes light up when you ask what she’s looking forward to once she’s all better. Like any seven-year-old, she has her priorities. “The first thing I want to do is play, and talk with my best friend!” she says. But then she quickly adds, “And I like school a lot. I want to return to school, and when I’m older I want to keep going to school.” With her burns healed, and a fresh chance at life, we hope Taina is able to achieve all of her dreams.
Many thanks to the team of people who made this surgery possible, including Courtney Carver, Tabatha Macdonald, and Danielle Spangler at Zimmer, as well as Pat Bacuros and Kayla McCarthy at Direct Relief, who all played a big part in securing the donation of the mesher equipment. Taina was just the first of many patients whose lives will be saved by this equipment.