Dr. Jean Louis Romain

A pediatrician in Haiti shares his story, and the stories of his young patients.

As a boy, Jean Louis Romain spent a lot of time in hospitals with his sickly mother. With his family able to afford to pay for and receive care, he regularly saw his mother take medicine and get better, so he began to enjoy going. “I liked going to the hospital,” he smiles, “and watching the doctors and nurses at work.” He was inspired to become a doctor himself, but as a newly-minted pediatrician, he quickly realized that for many people in his country, going to a hospital was not a happy occasion or an affordable option.

He can tell story after story of the child who died of meningitis because her family could not pay for the medicine needed to treat the infection, or the boy who died because he wasn’t at a hospital equipped to treat an intestinal blockage, or the baby who died because no facility in Haiti could treat his cancer. “We would know what they have—we would diagnose them, and then they would be sent home to die.”

Today, Dr. Romain works as the Chief of Pediatrics at the Zanmi Lasante (PIH’s partner organization in Haiti) hospital in Cange precisely because the organization offered him the opportunity to practice medicine with the supplies, tools, and resources a doctor needs to effectively treat patients—whether they have HIV or severe malnutrition—and regardless of their ability to pay. He now can tell a very different kind of story.

 
 

Patients waiting to be seen by Dr. Romain and his staff in Cange.

There’s a toddler, named Evansly, who’s winning his fight against Wilm’s tumor, a malignant cancer of the kidney. Dr. Romain started the boy on chemotherapy in Cange while PIH arranged transport to Boston (facilities to handle this disease do not exist in Haiti), and found skilled doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital who have the resources to complete the complex treatment regimen for free. Today, Evansly bubbles with energy, running around and babbling up a storm. Dr. Romain smiles as he reflects on the remarkable change in the child.

There’s a baby named Anthony, who recently arrived at the hospital at Cange. Weak and skeletally-thin with a swollen belly, the child was severely malnourished, and had tuberculosis, Dr. Romain recalls. So he immediately started the boy on a course of antibiotics to treat the TB and other infections, as well as nourimanba, a peanut-based enriched therapeutic food. After just eight weeks, the boy looked like a normal, healthy child. “We’re able to save many children that would have been lost at other hospitals (in Haiti),” Dr. Romain says. “We’re able to do our jobs.”

 

[posted March 2009]

 

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