Saving a Life: Meet Olken Foncime, a Haitian Orphan
By Jenny Dyer
Christian Gilbert, M.D., Associate Medical Director of International Children's Heart Foundation (www.babyheart.org) in Memphis, TN connected with Senator Frist about a year ago to let us know the great work he was doing: providing pediatric cardiac surgical services and education to the children and health care providers in developing countries around the world.
We invited the International Children’s Heart Foundation to join the HTHH Tennessee Global Health Coalition, and he and his wife attended our first Gathering at the First home September 29, 2009. I had been apprised by Senator Frist of a situation in Haiti, where a young orphan, Olken, was suffering from congenital heart disease, Tetralogy of Fallot, and would likely die without immediate surgery. In meeting Dr. Gilbert for the first time, I asked him what the likelihood of his reaching this child in rural Haiti would be.
I’ll let Christian relay the rest of the story through his letter:
This story begins with a letter to Senator Frist which you answered and as a result invited me and ICHF to participate in the HTHH foundation. That led to an invitation to the gathering at the Senator's house. There I found out about this Haitian orphan in need of heart surgery from you.
I checked it out with my director and the director of the program in Dominican Republic, where I was headed for a two week mission and got the OK to help him on our mission to the DR later in the week. That set the wheels in motion and before too long I had pictures of him and his caretakers and knew his name, Olken Foncime.
He arrived in the Dominican Republic on Wednesday the 7th of October with his guardians, Marc, Leslie, and Pauline. When I first met him I was stunned at the profound degree of cyanosis, and equally impressed by his gentle sweet demeanor. He quickly became everyone's favorite. He was a high risk surgery with an estimated mortality risk of 15-20%. I reminded myself that it was 100% without it. He needed some things done before we could operate on him such as antibiotics and exchange transfusions because his hematocrit was 80, with normal being around 40. His blood coagulation was so abnormal the anesthesiologists was reluctant to put him to sleep for the IV line to do the exchange transfusion. Because he was so sick it was decided that rather than try a complete repair which carried a very high mortality risk I would do a shunt procedure and defer the total repair for a time when he was not so sick and had a better chance of survival.
On Monday October 12th he was taken for a Blalock Taussig shunt. He did very well with the operation and for the first time in his life he had pink nail beds and lips. In the picture, he is bravely holding onto his teddy bear and heart just a few hours after his surgery.
He is now 3 days post op and is starting to open up and smile and eat some food. All of his IV lines and drainage tubes are out and he has been transferred to the regular ward. It is my expectation he will be ready to return to the orphanage on Saturday or Sunday. I hope that some time in 2010 we will be able to bring him back for a total repair. We all have been blessed by this child and his caregivers who demonstrate amazing love and selflessness. God put us together and I give him all the glory as we are simply his servants here on earth. He clearly has a plan for this beautiful little boy. Thank you for bringing his story to my attention. God Bless.
…Sometimes little miracles happen through the most simple of circumstances. Building partnerships is crucial for saving lives, like Olken's, around the world. This is just the beginning of what is possible with a robust, well-connected coalition...