Thursday, August 9, 2007

Reflections on the Value of a Life

We had guests this week; missionaries who live a few hours away in the town of Erandique. These wonderful folks have set up and run a medical clinic, amongst other ministries. One of the missionary families living there includes about nine children (the youngest is around 12, while at least one of the older children is married and has settled in with their spouse to work in the vicinity), and several other families which have come to live there, as well.

Our guests consisted of some of the younger generation, a twenty-something nurse who works in the clinic, a young married couple, and siblings. They came to us for networking help, among other things, because they have a difficult medical situation in their village, and they are trying to figure out what can be done.

A single, first time Honduran mom in their area has a lovely nine month old daughter, who was born without a rectum. Normally, without a colostomy surgery, a child with this condition would not survive any time at all, but this little girl had a small opening into her vagina, so that she was able to evacuate her bowels as long as her stools were soft. It is incredible that she has not died long ago from infection, but she is, in fact, still alive at this time. Her condition was undiagnosed at the hospital where she was born, and at subsequent doctor visits. Recently, however, she began to have trouble with harder stools, and her mother brought her to the missionary clinic when she noticed that the child had not had a bowel movement for some number of days.

At this point, it seems fairly certain that this child's life is dangling by a thread. There is no amount of time a person can live when their body cannot get rid of wastes safely. She is already living on 'borrowed time,' and is needing immediate surgery.

Our best option for safe, inexpensive surgery for this child is the American missionary hospital at Balfate, on the north coast, which is a trip of about twelve hours from here, by bus. The doctors there conferred with us by phone, about the logistics. The child needs a series of approximately five operations. The first would need to happen immediately. A trained Spanish-speaking nurse would need to accompany the mother and baby to the hospital, help with the post-operative care there, accompany them back to Erandique, and stay with the child between surgeries. This entire process of multiple surgeries would involve about 18 days of nursing care away from Erandique, plus months of nursing care back in the village, by a trained nurse. The surgeries themselves, and the transportation, would cost almost nothing.

As our family and this group of young missionaries worked together, along with surgeons on the phone from the hospital, to figure out the logistics of this situation, it was difficult for me to think about how all of this related to one tiny baby girl. We discussed how the nurse, who has the responsibility of caring for all the patients of the clinic in Erandique, could not realistically be away from the clinic for this amount of time. We talked about the problems and logistics of the travel. Meanwhile, this little girl's life is still hanging by the same thread. Can we help her? I still don't know what will be worked out.

It is really too sad to contemplate. This is just one little Honduran girl baby. She can grow up to be anyone . . . although more than likely she will not grow up at all. If she had simply been born into my family (or yours - you who are reading this blog), not only would she have received this needed medical care long ago, but no one would have dared suggest that perhaps we 'can't afford the time' to save her life. And this isn't to criticize the missionaries involved. We are all just trying to figure out how best to work, in a country where the needs so outnumber the available solutions.

But, what I really want, is to be the mommy of this one little girl, and make it all better. If only I didn't know that there are thousands of others in line behind her . . .

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Fabulous news . . . see the update on this, posted August 22nd!


Tana said...

Trish, I was referred to your blog because my son was born with what I believe is the same condition as that little girl, imperforate anus. It is correct that the child needs surgery as soon as possible, but I am mystified as to what this series of 5 operations and months of nursing care back at home could be referring to. I know that wasn't the case for my child, or any others that I have encountered in support groups on the internet for parents of children with this condition.

I would strongly suggest that someone get in touch with the Cincinatti ColoRectal Center as soon as possible to get some advice. They are the world-wide experts in this condition and similar analrectal anomolies. Their doctors travel the world performing surgeries and teaching other doctors how to do the surgeries and the follow up care. Once the surgery is done, the child will likely need assistance with bowel management for the rest of her life, but it is not impossible if they get good medical care. Their website and contact info is here:

Trish said...

Thanks for giving me this information, Tana. I have sent an email to the hospital. I don't know what they will be able to offer to us, but I'm glad for an option to follow, at least!


Tana said...

Trish, thanks for caring so much about this little one! I will keep checking your blogs for updates and I'll be praying fervently for her.

Tim & Richelle said...

Just wanted to say I understand your sentiments - Dad allowed us to help a little one with hydrocephalus this past winter/spring - an incredible time of step by step leading from above where we never knew more than the next step...

But it broke my heart to hear how many counseled that it was just one little girl. That if she lived, she would only be a burden to her family. That there was no guarantee - hard questions, no easy answers.

I'll be thinking much of this little one,her family, and all of those involved in the decision making process.