Caring for pregnant women and their babies can be the simplest thing on earth. At its heart, prenatal and delivery care is about supporting women’s bodies and their infants to do what they already intuitively know how to do, right? But in high risk situations, if you are on an island with a fractured health care system, unreliable transportation, during a pandemic with closed borders and no incoming passenger flights… getting life saving medication to Maison de Naissance (MN) can be challenging at best.
Women with Rh negative blood and Rh positive partners need a medicine called Rhophylac to prevent Rh disease. Did I mention it is not available anywhere in Haiti? Usually, one of our volunteer travelers (most often our Executive Director, Jim Grant) takes it as carry-on luggage in a cooler bag, because this is a biologic substance that has a very narrow temperature comfort range- can’t get too hot, can’t get too cold, or it is ruined. And though the company that sells it gives us a compassionate price, it’s still VERY expensive. So ruining 40-60 doses at a time is NOT an option, because not only is that a lot of money, but no one is going to be flying to Haiti from Kansas City again for several more months.
But all of that is prelude. As Jim and I were having an email exchange with Mme Rosena Baptiste (Directrice of Maison de Naissance), talking through her plan for extra cleaning and distancing and personal protective equipment to prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic to strike the Southern peninsula, we discovered that MN was dangerously low on Rhophylac. Our hearts sank, as the government had just announced that no passenger flights would be allowed in from the US, and we had no way to bring in this medicine by our usual route. Enter the social media platform on Facebook called “Ob-Gyn Moms Group” (OMG for short- clever, right?). This closed Facebook group for Ob-Gyns who are also mothers has come to MN’s aid before, helping us raise funds over Black Friday several years ago for our most recent ambulance purchase. So, when I reached out to this group it was with high hopes that someone, anyone, would answer. I needed an Ob/Gyn in Miami that would be willing to receive a shipment of Rhophylac by UPS or FedEx, refrigerate it overnight, and then find a way to send it (DHL, UPS) to Rosena in Port au Prince. That’s a tall order, and we have NEVER tried to ship this expensive, fragile, easily stolen medication before. Time to pray.
Miracle number one: Within moments, my query was answered by Alison, an Ob/Gyn in Miami who is not only generous and enthusiastic and amazing, but MARRIED TO AN IMPORT/EXPORTER. That’s her husband’s company’s raison d’etre (sorry, I lapse into French when I think about Haiti). Coincidence? I think not! So, I jump through the hoops of getting my account at Cardinal Healthcare switched over to my new office (a feat all by itself- don’t get me started), and get the Rhophylac ordered. After several false starts and helping a brand new Cardinal employee figure out how to help me, my account was updated, the address changed, and the Rhophylac arrived. Andres (the exporter) and I worked out that I would ship it to them in Miami on Monday overnight so that he could turn it around to arrive in Haiti within the week. The shipping box is designed to keep the medication cold for 72 hours. Jim met me at the UPS (Andres had a friend from high school that got him a special UPS rate for overnight shipping to Port au Prince (Miracle number two) and sent the box to Miami. Andres sent it on to Port au Prince and….. we got an email overnight that a number on that form and another form were missing. The box never left Miami.
Oh NOOOO! I had all of Facebook praying that this box would speedily get to Haiti and fly through customs and into Rosena’s waiting arms- and now this? But wait! This was actually MIRACLE NUMBER THREE! Jim had suggested contacting our foundation board member Pere Frantz Casseus who is waiting out the pandemic in Montreal, to see whether the Episcopal Church had someone on the ground in Port au Prince that could walk the package through customs. As I reached out to Pere Casseus, it occurred to me WHICH Friday the package was due to arrive at the customs office. Betsy, you blithering idiot, the package was going to arrive Thursday evening or GOOD FRIDAY! I confirmed with Pere Casseus that, in all likelihood, the customs office would be closed on Friday as well as the next Monday. Thankfully, that box never shipped out of Miami and did not get stuck in the customs office over the long, hot holiday weekend, being utterly ruined.
The box was safely retrieved by Andres and his shipping company (there were some detours in there) and spent the weekend chilling (literally) at his home. Pere Casseus gave us some awesome advice about adding the name of the Episcopal Church of Haiti to the shipping label, so his man on the ground could walk it through customs, Cardinal came through with the special numbers we needed for the form to say what the nature of the medicine was so it didn’t need a special import tax or license (Miracles four and five), and the package was re-shipped on Monday afternoon to minimize its time on planes, trains and automobiles. Rosena went to the UPS office on Monday- no package. She returned on Tuesday morning- no package. Finally, on Tuesday at 5 pm she got the call that the package would be available for pickup on Wednesday. And, Miracle number six, the customs fee was only $70 US!. Glory to God, who thinks of everything.
The moral of the story? Haiti may be a difficult place to work, but God is on His throne, ready to make the right connections- from a high school classmate, to a foundation staff member, to a faithful servant of the church, to an amazing Ob/Gyn Facebook group, to a generous and motivated exporter who went the extra mile (not once but twice), to our resourceful and dauntless Directrice, Rosena, who brought a cooler full of ice to transport that essential medication back to the waiting mothers and babies at Maison de Naissance. Don’t believe in miracles? Just hang out with us for awhile. You will.