By Jennifer Browning
At 9-months old, Julisa was toddling across their house with the support of small chair when she stumbled into a small pot of boiling water. She received serious burns on her right arm and left hand. Now at age 12, she experiences burn contractures on both limbs.
During a visit to a clinic, Rose-merline Pierre Louis, a Project Medishare nurse, found Julisa, who is now 12, and noticed her burn contractures, which are permanent, shortening of burn scar tissue that pulls joints out of position and results in physical impairment.
As the burns on her arm began to heal, Julisa’s right arm contracted so that she couldn’t straighten her arm. This made it difficult for Julisa to do simple tasks like eating, washing clothes, or doing other basic chores.
Rose-merlin thought that Julisa might be a good candidate for plastic surgery to correct her condition. Rose-merlin called, Project Medishare nurse liaison, Maguy Rochelin who informed her that a team of plastic surgeons were coming to Port-au-Prince as part of Project Medishare’s Plastic Surgery Program.
In mid-May, Julisa traveled to Haiti’s capital to hopefully get her burn contracture corrected so that she could one day soon begin doing simple tasks. The plastic surgery team from Miami felt Julisa was a good candidate and scheduled her for surgery.
While she is still recovering, Julisa said she could already tell the difference with her right arm.
“Before I couldn’t wash myself or feed myself because I couldn’t bend my arm and my hand was deformed,” Julisa said. “I am happy that the doctors could help me. It was painful the first week, but my arm is much better now.”
While Julisa’s arm could be corrected, not all of her fingers on her left hand were able to be relieved of the burn contracture. Julisa’s grandmother Ersile said she is a little disappointed that the hand could not be fully fixed, but she is happy to see improvement in her granddaughter’s arm.
“I am happy because I see the improvement for her arm,” Ersile said. “Before Julisa couldn’t help me cook and wash up after a meal, but now I know that if I have to go out that she can stay and help with the younger children.”
But even more important to Ersile is that Julisa will be capable of caring for herself, if necessary one day.
“Most of all, I feel better knowing that if something should happen to me, that Julisa will be able to take care of herself when she gets older,” Ersile said. “That makes me happy most of all.”
Julisa still has a long road ahead of her. For the next few weeks she still needs to follow-up at the clinic in Casse to change the bandage and check the progress of her healing.
In addition to receiving the surgery, Julisa is also a participant in the Presidential Emergency For AIDS Research (PEPFAR) Program.
As one of five organizations in the Cross Haiti Alliance, Project Medishare received a three-year PEPFAR NPI grant in December 2008. Project Medishare has been focusing activities in the very remote community of Casse/Lahoye located in the commune of Thomonde.
Program objectives are to enable indigenous NGOs to develop their capacity and capability to deliver orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) services at the community level; provide care and support services for HIV/AIDS OVC’s; prevent HIV infection among adolescent and youths; and provide access to palliative care for people living with HIV/AIDS and affected households.
Project Medishare’s local staff has agreed to live in this remote area. The community is also mobilized and participating, which has a positive impact on the community.
After Julisa was born, she never received a birth certificate. Through the PEPFAR grant, community health agents were able to assist Ersile in getting her granddaughter the proper documents.
The same grant also provides tuition so that Julisa can continue to go to school.
Julisa said that she loves attending school.
“I like geometry because I love working with shapes and tracing with the rulers,” she said, “and I love to draw. I hope that I will become better at drawing when my arm heals.”
Dorval, a community health agent standing next to her smiled.
“She is already a very good artist,” he said. “She makes beautiful drawings.