Lovely Jean lives a bumpy 20 minute motorcycle ride from the nearest paved road. To get to her house, you pass fields strewn with dove grey volcanic rock, ridden with swiss cheese like holes. Lovely Jean sits perfectly still in her house, amongst a general disarray of tangled piles of clothes, wearing a spotless pale pink shift dress with quiet white flowers and grey stems. So shy, she turns her head as if to speak to her chair when asked about her life—her favorite subject (French), what she likes to do with friends (play cards) and her dreams for the future (become a doctor). At age 16, she is in the 6th grade.
Lovely Jean, pictured here with her mother in 2012, now lives with her 40-year-old father and three brothers in a small house on a plot of land that her father farms for a living. Last year, her mother died in childbirth with her 5th child at the age of 34. So in addition to her school work, Lovely Jean now fills her days with cooking, cleaning and watching her three younger brothers. Without her mother, she feels very sad and alone.
Her mother died of preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, often the kidneys. If left untreated, preeclampsia can put a woman at risk of a stroke, impaired kidney and liver function, blood clotting problems, fluid on the lungs, and seizures. Babies may also be born prematurely or small, or even stillborn. In rural Haiti, the incidence of preeclampsia is 18%, more than 5X the incidence of 2-3% in the U.S
Unlike many women in Haiti, Lovely’s mother had access to prenatal care. She learned
d she had preeclampsia in her prenatal visits at the HAPI clinic and was told her condition required regular monitoring at a hospital.
Unfortunately, at this point, HAPI doesn’t have the facilities to address complicated maternal cases. So with four children at home and her husband a subsistence farmer, Lovely Jean’s mother was unable to act on this recommendation and get the care she needed.
Approximately 7 months into her pregnancy, “she swelled up,” according to her husband. The first hospital he took her to said they didn’t have the capability of dealing with this maternal emergency. So they were forced to travel to Jacmel, about a 45-minute ride by car or motorbike. There, she was told her baby was already dead and that she had to deliver it.
After 8 days in the hospital, she was released. After 8 days at home, Lovely Jean’s mother was dead.
Managing preeclampsia in the US takes constant surveillance, but seldom results in maternal or baby death. In Haiti, however, one study found that in women at the Hopital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles Haiti, 17.8% of patients experienced a stillbirth and 1.9% cases resulted in maternal death.
Experts agree that preeclampsia tends to run in families. So Lovely Jean will be at increased risk when she starts her family, probably sometime in the next 10-15 years. Hopefully, by the time Lovely Jean starts her family, she will also have a better chance at receiving the care she needs at an affordable price, and closer to home.
But this doesn’t have to be left up to chance. Your support of Felisane Health Center’s current and future plans to provide comprehensive maternity services, can assure that pregnancy for rural Haitian women is more joyous occasion than a game of roulette with their life.
~Contributed by Dorothy Wetzel, Extrovertic.com