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At a glance: Dominican Republic

Field Diary: Children’s ward treats Haitian quake survivors in the Dominican Republic

© UNICEF Dominican Republic/2010/Camposano
From his hospital bed in Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic, Maximillien Francois, 12, reads to UNICEF Communication Specialist Jennifer Bakody.

By Jennifer Bakody

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic, 18 February 2010 – The moment I arrived at the children's ward at Dario Contreras Hospital, I heard cries from the wounded. About a dozen injured young people lay in one room, some crammed two to a bed. Some had a parent by their side, some were alone.

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Amputated arms or legs were common, and it looked like almost everyone was in a cast. Blood-stained bandages were wrapped tightly around some heads. Other children were hooked to IV drips with medicines. One little boy had lost an eye.

This is where I met Maximillien Francois, 12, whose mother brought him here for treatment about three weeks ago.

Convoy to the border

Max is in the seventh grade in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Delmas. On the day of the earthquake, he was playing outside his school when a wall collapsed, crushing his leg. His only brother, his father and a cousin were all killed when another building collapsed on them.

Most of the hospitals that could have treated Max near his home were destroyed in the quake, but his mother managed to get space for them on a convoy leaving for the neighbouring Dominican Republic. The doctors at the border said they didn't have the equipment to save Max's leg, so they sent them on to the better medical facilities here in the capital, Santo Domingo.

© UNICEF Dominican Republic/2010/Camposano
Maximillien Francois injured his leg in the 12 January earthquake in Haiti and later made his way to the Dario Contreras Hospital in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

A passion to learn

Max's bed stands out from others nearby because it is covered with piles of books. He goes through about a dozen a day, and has read many of them twice or more. His favourites are detective stories and Disney books.

"I feel demoralized," Max told me, but he added that reading and writing are helping him to relax.

Here's a child who just lost several close family members. He's badly injured, homeless and not in school. 'Demoralized' is probably the perfect word for the situation – but it's one I would expect to hear from an adult, not a 12-year-old. Max's intelligence and expressiveness seem beyond his years.

I'm not the only one struck by his thoughtfulness. Hospital volunteer Joelle Baur said she was immediately taken with the boy and wanted to do everything she could to ease his situation. He was in a lot of pain, but his efforts to cope were heroic.

Ms. Baur was impressed by Max's excellent French skills, and she struggled to bring in enough books to keep up with his demands. She shared his story with several local newspapers. The clippings of articles about his ordeal are now mounted to the wall by his bed.

© UNICEF Dominican Republic/2010/Bakody
About 50 Haitian children who suffered injuries in the 12 January earthquake are currently receiving care at the Dario Contreras Hospital in Santo Domingo. French-language books donated to avid reader Maximillien Francois make their way around the ward.

When he first arrived, it looked like Max would have to undergo and amputation. But following another operation this week, Max received good news: Doctors may have managed to save his leg.

Many more need treatment

Across the region, many more earthquake survivors like Max are waiting for the medical care they need. For some, their life depends on it.

My recent visits to hospitals in Haiti and the Dominican Republic made me think about the quake's rising death toll, which the Haitian Government now puts at about 217,000. The challenges faced by these hospitals demonstrate how urgent it is to improve medical facilities for the survivors – so this number won't have to rise any higher.




11 February 2010: UNICEF’s Jennifer Bakody reflects on her visit to young Haitian earthquake survivors recovering in the Dominican Republic.
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