One of our interpreters told us they thought an epidemic was occurring in a certain mountain community and asked for a doctor to come help. After Guiga and I set up the team to do our usual planned clinic, she and I left and headed to this mountain community. We drive into the community, if it can be called that. If you’re standing at one makeshift hut, you can’t see the nearest neighbor’s hut.
They bring a boy out to me. He is naked from the waist down, filthy and is being carried by his father. His father sets him down and the boy immediately goes to a squatting position. His name is Richele. He is nine years old and, up until 7 months ago, used to be “normal”; walking, talking, playing. Now he has this far-off blank stare and cannot stand. He can no longer speak. He hardly acknowledges my presence and starts repeatedly running the palms of his hands lightly over the surface of the ground, a very rudimentary, self stimulating behavior (similar to child sucking their thumb). Several weeks ago he had fallen backside-first into a campfire and was burned. This is the first thing I examine and, remarkably, it is healing without any sign of infection. In fact, other than his muscular weakness and cognitive deficits, his physical exam is unremarkable. After some questioning about diet, his diagnosis becomes clear. He has Wernicke’s Encephalopathy; something rarely seen in the U.S. It is a thiamine (Vitamin B1) deficiency. He is literally starving. If caught early, is it completely reversible. For this boy, we are too late. Even with proper diet, he will never be normal again.
We see two other children in the same community, both with the same diagnosis. It is unthinkable that this is occurring anywhere in the world in present time. But there is no denying that it is. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. They will never be productive members of their community. They will never know the love of an intimate relationship or the joy of being a parent. They will, forever, be a burden to their families and, in Haiti, only the strong survive to their later years. Their fate is set. Three boys’ lives ruined, many family members burdened and it all could have been avoided with a simple children’s chewable vitamin. How completely sad. This is the reality in Haiti everyday.
In addition to providing medical care for thousands of Haitians, part of what People For Haiti does is to hand out vitamins; thousands of vitamins each trip. Our small group of 14 touches thousands of lives each trip. We make a difference. We cannot save those three boys, but we can prevent that ill-fate for countless others. We need help on our missions. We need you there. They need you there; making a difference.