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“We have a problem, her blood pressure is really high, she has a severe headache and swelling. Oh, and she’s in her third trimester.” These are words that would make any clinician caring for a pregnant woman very concerned. 

Imagine spending months anticipating the birth of your child, whether it be your first or your fifth. Because of your geography or lack of funds, you have no access to a clinic or to medications, blood tests, ultrasounds, or medical support to guide you through this universal process. For most pregnancies around the world, thankfully the outcomes are joyful. But in a number of cases, the situation can turn catastrophic. 

High blood pressure in pregnancy (pre-eclampsia), hemorrhage, and infections are the most lethal causes of maternal mortality around the world, including Haiti. In Haiti, almost 60% of women give birth without a skilled attendant. This translates to a patient population that is high risk and the highest maternal death rate in the Western Hemisphere (World Bank, 2017). If there’s a complication during childbirth, the results can be dire for mom and newborn. 

Road to Destra

Road to Destra

Magdala being transferred to St Boniface Hospital, a few hours south of Destra

Magdala being transferred to St Boniface Hospital, a few hours south of Destra

When we partnered with GOALS Haiti in Destra, our mission was to train primary healthcare workers and provide medical care to the people who call this northern coastal village home. There is affordable healthcare that is geographically close by, however in an area where poverty and inequality are the norm, getting basic healthcare is almost unattainable. During the January pilot launch of our clinic, we saw nearly 200 people, ranging in age from eight months old to 99 years old. One of them was Magdala J., a mom of three who was pregnant with her fourth child and obviously towards the end of her pregnancy. Magdala gave birth to her other three children with no skilled care at home, as almost all the women did in Destra. However, this pregnancy would be different from the others. She came to the clinic because she was experiencing headaches, swelling and generally not feeling very well. The baby had been moving fine and she was able to do her daily work and care for her children. She just felt a little off. Thankfully, she came in that day and had her blood pressure checked. It was abnormally high. This can reflect a condition called preeclampsia (or toxemia), one of the top killers of pregnant women in the world. The treatment is delivery— a life-saving measure for mom and baby alike.  When asked more specifically at the clinic, it turns out Magdala was exhibiting the most common symptoms of preeclampsia: headache, swelling, visual changes, and upper abdominal pain. Since we have an ongoing relationship with St. Boniface Hospital, an institution that provides very low cost/free care, we made arrangements to have Magdala transferred that day. Our colleague at St. Boniface, Dr. Germinal, is a capable and skilled OB/GYN so we knew she would be in good hands. 

Born too soon

Born too soon

We got word a few days later that she had an emergency cesarean delivery and the baby was transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit, which is rare in that region. Luckily,  she was in a hospital that could perform an emergency delivery safely and had a nursery that could take care of a premature baby that had been stressed in utero by the effects of preeclampsia. It was estimated that Magdala was around 32-33 weeks pregnant when she delivered, an age when many babies born in Haiti do not survive. We returned to Haiti recently and followed up on the baby who is now healthy, at home and both are doing fine. We're thankful that we held the clinic in January and that Magdala had confidence in our ability to care for her— she and the baby both survived a condition that is life-threatening. 

Through our partnership with GOALS Haiti, we were able to educate the community about health issues such as Magdala’s, and we’ll continue to involve local citizens who will be part of our efforts to bring better healthcare and awareness to Destra. We look forward to our return this September.

All photos used with permission.



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