By Jennifer Browning
PORT-AU-PRINCE–The rain poured at 4 a.m. as three Project Medishare volunteers drove to Miami International Airport for their 7:10 flight to Haiti. There was much to do before 14 more members of the surgical team arrived on Saturday and this early flight was just the beginning.
As part of Project Medishare’s Specialty Surgery Program Miami Children’s Hospital neurosurgeons and nurses are volunteering this weekend in Haiti’s capitol to perform surgeries for those children who have been diagnosed with hydrocephalus, a congenital disease that affects 2 out of every 1000 births. For this surgical trip, Project Medishare has partnered with Haiti’s Ministry of Health and Healing Hands, the only organization in Haiti that deals with the disabled.
In most places, hydrocephalus is diagnosed shortly after birth, a somewhat simple operation allows a child a greater chance at a normal life. Unfortunately, this is rare in Haiti; instead when undetected, the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that flows normally through a healthy baby is blocked or unabsorbed. When this happens, the fluid creates pressure on the brain causing swelling, severe damage and eventually death.
Twenty-three children will be operated on in the next three days. In preparation for these surgeries, Surgical Trip Organizer Ann McNeil along with Carolyn Domina and Sharon Udy-Janczuk met with Haitian nurses who will be assisting in post-operative care. Then there were the logistics to look after: setting up cribs, making sure the operating room was ready, finding out how and where the instruments would be sterilized, and making sure the boxes of equipment were properly placed. Afterwards, surgery candidates heads were measured to detect any growth since the team’s assessment in September.
Tomorrow the surgical team arrives in Port-au-Prince on the 8:15 a.m. flight. By noon they will begin the surgeries scheduled for the afternoon. Six children will have vetriculostomy surgery performed by the surgical team lead by pediatric neurosurgeons Dr. Ragheb and Dr. Bhatia. The procedure allows for the cerebrospinal fluid to escape relieving pressure on the child’s brain.
The procedure does not reduce the size of the child’s head, but the head will stop getting larger. Eventually, the child grows and the abnormal large appearance of the head isn’t noticeable anymore.
The key to the hydrocephalus situation in places like Haiti is detection. The children with larger heads, who have suffered from the condition longer, have more developmental delays. If hyrdrocephalus is diagnosed early and is not complicated by other medical conditions (such as meningitis) then the developmental delays are less. These children can eventually go on to school and be productive members of society and that is one of the many hopes and goals Project Medishare has during this surgical trip.