As a fellow in gynecologic oncology, Nathalie Dauphin McKenzie, M.D., doesn't deliver babies anymore, so it's a good bet that she - and everybody else at the Miller School's hospital in Haiti on McKenzie's last day of volunteering there - will never forget the newborn she helped bring into the world before returning to Miami.
Named Jefferson by his young parents, the healthy baby was the hospital's first birth and provided McKenzie and the rest of the hospital staff a joyous respite from the sadness and suffering that still reduce seasoned trauma surgeons to tears.
"After seeing so much misery, I was glad to be able to take part in something happy," said McKenzie, who was born in Haiti. "And I have to tell you, it wasn't just me. Everybody in the camp - the physicians, the surgeons, the nurses - all gathered for the event, before we kicked them out, just to see something happy."
Indeed, happy images are few and far between at the 240-bed hospital the UM Global Institute/Project Medishare opened just nine days after the January 12 earthquake left hundreds of thousands of people dead or gravely wounded. Arriving January 22, a day after the hospital began accepting patients, McKenzie spent the next four days on an adrenaline rush, pitching in where and whenever needed.
"We worked day and night as the helicopters dropped off wounded people by the dozen every couple of hours," McKenzie recalled. "Particularly heartbreaking were the severely wounded children who called out in agony for their parents, except their moms and dads had died in the quake. Equally hard was having to make room for more incoming casualties, and because of this, watching patients whom we had finished casting or debriding limp back to the streets on crutches with no home or family to go to."
McKenzie also was reunited with her father who, unharmed by the quake, visited the camp. But his daughter could only manage to spare him an hour.
"By the end of that hour, I could not bring myself to be away from my patients any longer as I felt they needed me more,'' she said. "I kissed my dad goodbye, but I know he understood."
The evening before McKenzie's return to Miami, the expectant mother who would infuse the camp with joy came to the hospital in the early stages of labor. McKenzie examined her and was delighted to learn she was healthy, and her first birth showed no signs of complications. As the labor progressed through the next day, McKenzie's main concern was whether the baby would arrive before her scheduled 2 p.m. flight home.
But like so much in Haiti, the flight was delayed and, at 4:30 p.m., Jefferson arrived and McKenzie was able to hand him to his relieved mother. Without a scale, the doctor estimated he weighed 5 pounds.
"I got to hug the father and the new mom's older sister and watch as the new family bonded,'' McKenzie said. She also had time to rummage through the supply hut and put together a newborn starter kit, with some booties, blankets, bibs, baby bottles and a week's worth of diapers.
She could not, however, give the new family what they and tens of thousands of other families now need most: a home.
"Luckily, they didn't lose any family members," McKenzie said, "but they did lose their home so they have no home to bring this newborn to."
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