Haitian toddler to get care at Abington Memorial

July 19, 2010 3:33:15 PM PDT
Doctors helping in the devastating earthquake in Haiti helped a lot of people with quake injuries.

But they also discovered Haitians suffering with medical problems easily treated in the U.S.

Now one of them is about to get lifesaving surgery at Abington Memorial Hospital.

Mirlande Felime is a little girl, with a big problem.

The 23-month-old was born with an intestinal abnormality that occurs about once in every 4,000 births. Her large intestine doesn't exit the body through its own opening, but through another orifice.

In the United States, the birth defect is corrected fairly easily with surgery. But doctors in Haiti told her father there was nothing they could do.

Without treatment, Mirlande had little chance of making it to her 5th birthday.

Dr. Ala Frey, the director of pediatric surgery at Abington Memorial Hospital, says, "She would die... It would essentially cause sepsis, and bacteria throughout her body and into her bloodstream, and she would succumb to this."

In April, Dr. Seth Newman saw Mirlande at a clinic in Port-au-Prince, and knew Abington could help.

Since then, the hospital and community have worked to assemble the medical care, airfare, visas, and even an apartment for Mirlande and her father to use during the months ahead. Sabrina Harris, the hospital's director of Diversity and Interpreter Services, says hospital employees donated time, money, and goods to equip the apartment. Reaching into her pocket, Harris said, "On the way here this morning, I even had someone put a Target gift card in my hand and said - 'This is for the Haitian family.'"

Abington is donating its medical care, and the use of the apartment, which is in a hospital-owned building. The Martin Luther King Committee arranged for air travel, and others have donated other assistance.

Next week, Mirlande will undergo the first operation.

And she'll need at least one more in about 2 or 3 months.

Through a translator, her father Josue expressed his gratitude.

"This is something that I never dreamed would happen," he said quietly.

He continued, "Finally, we found someone to help us."

Dr. Frey says Mirlande's prognosis is very good.

Dr. Newman says although Mirlande is getting help, Haiti is still a nation in desperate need, 7 months after the massive earthquake.

"The amount of human misery and suffering there is simply unbelievable, and it is every day," he said. Dr. Newman, who went to Haiti with Project MediShare.org, says there are still many volunteer opportunities, for medical professionals, as well as those with other skills. One current project is to rebuild medical training in Haiti, where the medical school was destroyed by the quake.