When treatment isnít available

04/06/2010

 

Earthquake survivor Zilania Jaocim begins her long journey.

 

On March 28, Zilania Jaocim, finally left Haiti after suffering in excruciating pain for eleven long weeks, on a plane bound for Boston. As the treatment she needed could not be performed in her own country, Partners In Health’s Right to Health Care Program helped arrange for a medevac. But this was just the final leg in her journey to find treatment.

Mrs. Jaocim's home in Port-au-Prince collapsed on her and her husband, Reserve Coffy, during the January 12 earthquake, trapping the couple in a small backroom. While Mr. Coffy escaped serious injury, Mrs. Jaocim, a 67-year-old diabetic, was struck by falling debris. Her leg was crushed.

The couple’s son, Jean Paul Coffy, could not find any news about his parents following the quake. Distraught, he flew from Chicago to Haiti to search for them. He finally found them at their home, alive but too weak to escape to safety.

After digging them out, Jean Paul drove his parents to the Dominican Republic for medical attention. For weeks they were in and out of different facilities. The problem: Mrs. Jaocim’s hip was infected. Surgeons could not operate on the leg until the infection subsided and swelling decreased. Her physician in the Dominican Republic estimated that she would have to wait three months before having surgery.

The family quickly realized that this option was dangerous to Mrs. Jaocim’s health. They had to do something more. Jean Paul Coffy started a blog to raise money for his mother’s hospital bills—not to mention the cost of his taking off work and traveling to Haiti.

The family eventually contacted Partners In Health (PIH) in Boston looking for help. After learning of their situation, our colleagues in Haiti arranged to transport the family to our hospital in Cange for medical care. But shortly after Mrs. Jaocim had been admitted, PIH staff recognized that her medical needs would exceed the level of care realistically available in Haiti at this time. Dr. Koji Nakashima assessed Mrs. Jaocim’s situation. He knew she needed to be moved out of the country if she was going to survive.

It is here that the family’s luck changed again for the better. Visiting Cange at that time were both the President of Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston, Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, and Partners HealthCare President Dr. Gary Gottlieb. After meeting the couple, they helped arrange for Mrs. Jaocim to receive free treatment at BWH. The PIH team raced to secure travel documents and make travel arrangements, and on March 28, the couple took off for Boston.

Dr. Nakashima, who accompanied the couple on the medevac, recounted the trip:

 
 

Ms. Jaocim flew on a medevac plane out of Port-au-Prince.

 
 

Ms. Jaocim and her husband reunite with their son, Jean Paul Coffy, at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.



We left the medicine ward in Cange around 9 a.m.

A short ride up to Savanette led us to a helicopter-landing zone that we had plotted out by GPS the night before.  

Thanks to the generous support of the World Food Program, a helicopter saved Zilania yet another bone grating ride along Haiti's rocky roads, bringing us to the United Nation’s Logbase, located in Port-au-Prince.  

There we were met by an ambulance donated and crewed by staff from Sweden, who delivered us to the airport with a gentle hand.  

We were also met by PIH’s PAP-based staff with the couple’s Humanitarian Parole papers, the product of a network spanning from Boston to Haiti.  

Reserve marveled at the airplanes shuttling the innumerable volunteer teams.  He said, ‘I counted 47 people leaving to that plane, can they all fit?’ he asked.  I pointed to a Boeing 737, ‘That can hold 300 people.’

But we were waiting for our air ambulance, made possible by Erik Bartkowiak from Global Aeromedical and Lance Letchworth from Jet Fleet International, who volunteered their time and provided their service at cost.  

Zilania slept most of the way to Medford, MA, a testament to the kind care of Erik and Lance, as well a restful mind.  

In Medford, we were welcomed by a Fallon ambulance, PIH’s Right to Health Care team, and Jean Paul Coffy, the couple’s son.  

‘This has been the hardest experience of my life,’ Jean Paul confided to me, ‘But now I feel like I won the lottery.’

PIH staff both in Boston and in Haiti are excited to report that Mrs. Jaocim is safe and comfortable at BWH.

The family’s saga was given national coverage in two New York Times stories, the first published while they were still languishing in the Dominican Republic and the other after they arrived happily in Boston.