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Friday, February 22nd, 2013

When health professionals dedicated to serving the poor speak of their work being a privilege, it’s patients like Naika Francine and her father Losamma that they have in mind.

Naika was born three years ago with two holes in her heart. She was a thin and underweight baby – a textbook case of ‘failure to thrive’. She had trouble breathing and couldn’t keep up with her siblings. As one of six children living in a mountainous rural area in central Haiti, her future didn’t look bright. Neither, increasingly, did that of her family.

Naika’s father Losamma is a subsistence farmer who for the past year hasn’t been doing much farming, because he has spent most of the past year trying to get care for Naika. Losamma used to have animals – a cow, pigs, goats – but he sold them to pay for Naika’s care. The traditional healers told him Naika would get better, but she didn’t. By the time he turned to the Partners In Health / Zanmi Lasante clinic in Cange for care – provided free of charge – the animals were gone.

Losamma’s determination to help Naika live was greater than the voices of community members who told him to let her die. They believed he was on a fool’s quest. When the opportunity came through PIH’s Right To Health Care program for Naika to travel to Toronto for cardiac surgery not available in Haiti, the skeptics said Losamma should stay home to provide for his wife and the rest of the children. But the rest of the children are healthy, Losamma thought, and this one isn’t.

Naika and Losamma arrived in Toronto in early November. After a week or so, Naika developed one of her respiratory infections. The surgery was postponed. The next week it was postponed again. Between time spent in Port-au-Prince waiting for passports and visas and flight arrangements and now three weeks in Toronto, Losamma hadn’t been home in more than two months. Naika still wasn’t well enough for the operation. Tired and frustrated, with no way of knowing when Naika would be healthy, Losamma took Naika back to Haiti, with nothing to show for it except a missed planting season. The skeptics nodded their heads.

In mid-January, Losamma brought Naika back to Toronto.

This time Naika was healthy. Doctors inserted a small catheter tube through her groin up into her heart, where they released a small device that plugged the PDA, or patent ductus arteriosus. She was out of the hospital and snacking on cookies and juice before dinner time. The next day she was already a changed girl – more playful, happier, less irritable….and with a new chance at life. Father and daughter flew back to Haiti three days later.

This story isn’t about the Right To Health Care program, or the wonderful staff at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and their lifesaving Herbie Fund, or even necessarily the fact that non-existent treatment in Haiti is considered routine at a place like SickKids. It’s about our collective efforts to ensure that all people, wherever they live, don’t have to make the kind of choices Losamma had to make in order to realize health as a human right. This is what drives the work of Partners In Health every day of the year.

Thanks for being part of it.

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