Everyone found it hard to look at Douce, even the doctors at University Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The pretty little four-year-old was a victim of retinoblastoma, or cancer of the eye.
Her loving grandfather, 70-year-old Ce Dien Desamous, a farmer who grows maize and bananas near the small town of Marigox, carried her into the hospital, hoping the doctors could save her. One of Douces eyes, the healthy one, was soft and brown and filled with pain. The other, well, the other had been transformed into a massive growth that distorted her face.
Yuri Zelenski, a physician working with the Christian Blind Mission in Haiti, examined Douce. Then he and his team performed several operations on her eye, trying to remove all the cancerous tissue. But it wasn't enough.
"Since my start at University Hospital, I saw several children in our department with identical cancer of the eye," Zelenski said. "Unfortunately, as a diagnosis institution is not developed here, children arrive at the hospital too late to save their eyes or even lives. Unexpectedly, childhood blindness from cancer of the eye is a very serious problem in Haiti."
The sad thing is that Douce need not have died. A simple test, a quick examination by trained volunteers, could have detected the cancer early enough to save her.
Gary Downey, a former Peace Crops volunteer who works for the Christian Blind Mission, which is associated with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in Haiti, says the key to being effective against this disease and many others, is early detection.
"The Methodist Church of Haiti currently has eye clinics or some services in three parts of the country," Downey wrote in an e-mail message from the island. "They are hiring and training ophthalmic assistants and they are requesting funding to train community-level people in detection and referral of eye diseases to physicians. These are the programs that will eventually help the children like Douce."
According to Downey the need is very great. "We're just getting started, but the ultimate hope for the children is building a program that looks out for them first of all in their own communities," he said.
UMCORs NGO-Unit (Non-Governmental Organization) is in Haiti trying to help children like Douce by collaborating with organizations like Christian Blind Mission – a German NGO.
In 1997, UMCOR, using money donated by United Methodists through the One Great Hour of Sharing offering, collaborated with the mission on a complete renovation of the Orlo (Eye, Ear, Nose & Throat) Unit at University Hospital. The project was so successful that the mission wanted to continue the association. Greg Kimball, UMCORs project coordinator at the time, wrote a proposal for a position called CBM Health Officer. Then Downey was recruited for the job which entails management of various prevention of blindness projects in Haiti.
The Rev. Sam Dixon, an UMCOR staff executive, says Downey needs funding to train people in detection and referral of eye diseases. "Gary Downey operates the countrys national eye care program," Dixon explained. "And he needs money for that. He has only enough to last through next year." United Methodists through UMCOR and its association with Gary Downey and the Christian Blind Mission, are important to the children of Haiti.
Zelenski said Douces fate was not unusual. "Her case shows the general condition of eye care in the country," he said. "There is a big deficit of qualified doctors, diagnostic equipment and facilities for adequate treatment. Only early diagnosis and urgent adequate surgery could have saved her life. If the tumor has spread to the orbit or beyond the eye into the brain, the children die long and painful."
Gifts to assist this ministry should be given through UMCOR Advance #982353 and designated for "Haiti." UMCOR encourages you to give through your local United Methodist Church. Gifts may also be sent to: UMCOR, 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. To make a credit card donation, call (800) 554-8583. For more information, call Sam Dixon at 202-548-2777.
A UMNS News Story. Cathy Farmer is communications director of the United Methodist Church's Memphis Annual Conference.