So many of my friends and patients have asked me why I come on these trips. Several individuals have pointed out that the problems in Haiti are so massive that my individual efforts, all though admirable, can’t even begin to scratch the surface of the healthcare problems in Haiti.
My response: “ I can only take care of one patient at a time whether I am in the USA or Haiti. For that one patient, my being their surgeon, may change the course of their life. In Haiti it’s not that I am the surgeon that they choose, I am the chirijen ( that’s creole for surgeon) that has been divinely guided to be in Haiti that year, that month that week that moment. ”
We have completed four days of successful surgery. As a TEAM, which we truly have become, we have completed over 43 surgeries, numerous minor procedures and I personally have seen more hemorrhoids than I even want to admit! <Did miss my breast patients back in PA after a half day in clinic seeing general surgery patients>. If you don’t know this fact, surgeons love to be in the OR and often just tolerate the clinic. My clinic, or office hours as I call them at Comprehensive Breast Care Surgeons at Holy Redeemer are a cake-walk compared to the clinic in Haiti.
Let me introduce you to Marjorie
She is a beautiful 39 year old Haitian woman who is a daughter, a wife and a mother. February of 2012, Dr. Tony performed and excisional biopsy of a left breast mass that turned out to be breast cancer. It was estrogen receptor positive. (We know this as Tony brought the specimen back to the USA for evaluation and that my friends is another customs story that is best told by Dr. Coletta himself)
Unfortunately, we were never able to get Tamoxifen, a medicine we give to treat estrogen receptor positive cancer, to her and therefore he breast cancer returned. ( Had she been treated in the USA she would have had her lymph-nodes sampled, had radiation therapy to her breast and would likely have had chemotherapy as well) She got the best care that she could with the resources that were available. Fast forward to 2014. Marjorie returned to see Dr. Coletta. Despite a change of clinic location by our team, she found him. Unfortunately her cancer recurred and she required a mastectomy. This news to this beautiful young woman was devastating. If we were n the USA, she would have access to reconstructive surgery and chemotherapy. In Haiti she had Dr. Coletta and me to care for her. We scheduled her for surgery on Tuesday morning. She did not show initially at her planned time and I was concerned that she had backed out as the psychological trauma of the mastectomy may have been too much.
She showed up a little late and a little scared. Her surgery went off with out a hitch. Dr. Coletta, myself and Manny our PA were able to complete her surgery and have her safely returned to the PACU. Not even an hour after surgery, her husband came in to be with her and in English she said to me. “ That man he is my life!” Pretty nice thing to say about her husband! ( Possibly an early Valentine’s gesture)I am certain that this transition will be difficult for her, not having her breast, but she has her husband, family and children to support her. She also has Tamoxifen in her hands thanks to Randie from Holy Redeemer’s pharmacy!
We cooked breakfast fro her as she stayed the night and she loved the French toast and SPAM.
(Thanks to Dean we had 4 cans of SPAM and the team loved it)
She came by the clinic this morning to say goodbye on her way home. She told me that she loved me and that she was so happy that I came to Haiti. I will see her tomorrow to remove her drains. Beth, our nurse who has also had a mastectomy, will be with me when we take down her dressings and she sees what she looks like without her breast. It is a difficult moment, but I am confident that Marjorie will be fine. I won’t goodbye just say see you next year.
When I get back home, I will be securing enough Tamoxifen for the year, breast prosthesis of the appropriate color and surgical bras for her. Dr. Peter will bring them back to Haiti fro her in a month. Marjorie’s story is just one individuals life that was greatly impacted by our TEAM.
One patient a time we are making a difference