Advertisements
Health & Science

Out of sick teen’s cancer ordeal, Haiti doctors find a new way

Djooly Jeune, the Haiti teen who is battling Burkitt’s lymphoma in a poverty-stricken country where there are few treatment options for cancer, began a new round of chemotherapy Tuesday just as two of the country’s leading cancer treatment programs have agreed to collaborate on future pediatric cases.

“We are working on [an agreement] with Nos Petits Frères et Sœurs to take care of Djooly and the many Djoolys who are coming our way,” said Loune Viaud, executive director of Zanmi Lasante, the Haitian medical nonprofit that runs the University Hospital of Mirebalais, where Jeune has been hospitalized since Dec. 2.

Nos Petits Frères et Sœurs, French for “Our Little Brothers and Sisters,” is the nonprofit that runs St. Damien Pediatric Hospital in metropolitan Port-au-Prince, where Haiti’s only childhood cancer program is housed.

Diagnosed in May with advanced cancer, Jeune, now 18, spent eight months struggling to get treatment in a broken Haitian healthcare system with poorly trained doctors, limited chemotherapy options and treatment that is many hours away on a public bus.

When his tumor failed to respond to chemo and began growing again aggressively in November, none of the medical professionals Jeune saw, including nurses at a wound care center in Port-au-Prince where he went at least twice a week to change his bandages, noticed that the large mass had ruptured and had become infected.

Jeune’s plight was chronicled last month in the Miami Herald’s Cancer in Haiti series, along with that of Djonsly Alcin, another Haitian teen who was fortunate enough to come to South Florida, where he’s being treated for free by Baptist Health South Florida for an advanced brain tumor. The project was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

In a country where there are only 10 pediatric hospital beds devoted to cancer — and those who have the disease often are shunned — Jeune’s case had come to illustrate how the poor and powerless pay the price in Haiti for the reluctance of the country’s leaders to invest in their medical system.

Today, it’s also illustrating a new opportunity for Haitian doctors to collaborate on complex childhood cancer cases.

“There are many Djoolys who are dying and we don’t even know them,” said Dr. Pascale Yola Gassant, Haiti’s leading pediatric oncologist who in 2004 founded the childhood cancer program at St. Damien.

After initially turning down Jeune’s case because at 17 he was too old for St. Damien — the hospital treats children up to age 14 — Gassant decided to not only lend her expertise to his care at the University Hospital of Mirebalais, but help the teaching hospital better equip its oncology center to treat similar cases among Haiti’s 11 million inhabitants.

“It’s the debut of a collaboration that will allow us to start to care for those who are between the ages of 15 and 21 with cancer,” Gassant said.

She noted that with 35 percent or 3.85 million of Haiti’s population under the age of 15, the country can expect to see hundreds of new childhood cancer cases annually.

But with only a limited number of pediatric cancer beds for the whole country, and an age limitation at St. Damien, many of these children, especially those between the ages of 15 and 21, will have no place to go.

“If they go to Mirebalais, which isn’t prepared for them, they get treated as adults. But adult treatment plans do not work for children,” Gassant said.

Haitian Times

Haitian Times

The Haitian Times was founded in 1999 as a weekly English language newspaper based in Brooklyn, NY.The newspaper is widely regarded as the most authoritative voice for Haitian Diaspora.
Haitian Times
Advertisements
Dec. 19, 2018

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!