A right to health care: Sanley Jean



Sanley with her mother, Anette.

On January 12, 2010, 19-year-old Sanley Jean, home after spending a day at school, found herself suddenly trapped when the walls of her Port-au-Prince house collapsed on her during the massive earthquake. The rubble crushed her leg, breaking and exposing the bone. Such open fractures require immediate medical attention and often complex orthopedic surgery. But the devastating earthquake had left Port-au-Prince’s hospitals in ruins.

Sanley’s mother, Anette, survived with scrapes and sprains, and knew that getting treatment for her daughter would be difficult. The capital’s only public hospital was able to provide only limited services in tents set up on the hospital ground. The facility was overrun by thousands of patients. Many of the Port-au-Prince’s residents were forced to seek medical attention outside of the city.

So Anette took her daughter to the Dominican Republic, a multiple-hour journey from their devastated home. Her hope was that once there, Sanley would have a better chance of seeing a doctor.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ralph Ternier of Zanmi Lasante (ZL, PIH’s partner organization in Haiti), was in the Dominican Republic assisting patients who had fled to a hospital in San Juan. It was there that Ralph, who heads ZL’s hospital in the town of Belladerre, Haiti (which is near the border), found Sanley and Anette. He quickly realized Sanley’s open fracture required surgical care not available in his facility, and arranged to have her transferred to PIH’s hospital in Cange, Haiti.

Once in Cange, Dr. Chris Sampson met and started treating Sanley. He believed that there was a slim chance that Sanley’s leg could be saved—but only by transferring her to a better-equipped hospital. So PIH’s Right to Health Care (RTHC) team stepped in.

In a truly collaborative effort, many people came together to help Sanley get to the US. The first step was to locate a hospital willing and able to take on Sanley’s case. With support from Dr. Sampson, the Boston-based Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) quickly stepped up to the plate.

PIH and Zanmi Lasante staff then began the task of coordinating Sanley’s paperwork, maneuvering through both the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Haiti’s overburdened government offices. With so many moving parts to the equation, some of the staff began to worry that they wouldn’t be able to get Sanley to the U.S. for treatment in time.  It came down to the wire with Sanley, her mother Anette, and ZL staff waiting in an ambulance in the airport parking lot for the paperwork to be delivered. Her papers arrived 30 minutes before takeoff. Sanley and Anette were able to take their seats on the first commercial flight out of Haiti after the earthquake.

After landing in Boston, Sanley was taken directly from the airport to BWH. There, she was greeted by doctors and nurses, many of whom are from Haiti or have close ties to the Haitian community. PIH and BWH staff brought the family Haitian food, flowers, balloons, and spent hours talking with Sanley and Anette—making sure their transition from Haiti to Boston was a comfortable one. Neither woman had ever seen snow or experienced sub-freezing temperatures. BWH staff bought the women warmer clothes.

Sanley and Anette cooking with Chef Jody Adams of Rialto Restaurant.

Although loved and well-cared for at BWH, it soon became clear that Sanley’s leg could not be saved after all. The situation was not easy, but Sanley eventually came to grips with this fact as BWH and PIH staff carefully explained the consequences of keeping her leg. In the end, Sanley made the decision to have her leg amputated to save her life.

After the operation, Sanley says her body hurt for three or four days. She was in rehab less than two weeks later—slowly learning how to live with an altered body. In early March, as her leg began to heal, Sanley and her mom started venturing outside of the hospital, often with the use of a walker.

The mother-daughter team started attending Sunday church services near the hospital, went for walks at the mall in Boston’s Hyde Park, and was even pampered for an afternoon by a local hair salon. More recently, Anette and Sanley volunteered to teach Chef Jody Adams, chef and owner of Rialto Restaurant in Cambridge, how to cook goat—a staple of Haitian cuisine. The James Beard award-winning chef had been eliminated from Bravo’s reality-television program Top Chef Masters for undercooking a similar dish. Watch a video of Jody and Anette on the player below:

Sanley was fitted for a permanent prosthetic leg in late March and is currently undergoing physical therapy so that she can learn how to use it. She is one step closer to reaching a new normal and returning home.