Taylor Chace’s visit to Haiti
Taylor Chace with the NICU preceptors
Ellen Sullivan-Chace, RN, recently has provided nursing care in two vastly different worlds. One is BWH’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where state-of-the-art medical care is the norm. The other is in Haiti, a country so impoverished that even a simple ointment is an extraordinary gift.
But these worlds also share a common thread — the fragility of life and people who care. For the past two years, this 21-year veteran of the NICU has been part of a humanitarian group whose mission is to help Haiti’s immensely vulnerable population. And at Sullivan-Chace’s side for both trips was her teen-age daughter, Taylor.
“At first, I was a little scared of what I’d find,” said Taylor, now 17 and a high-school senior. “The experience was life-changing. The first night, I broke down and cried. It is so sad that a part of humanity is living in such poverty. You realize how much we have as a nation and as individuals. The smallest things take on powerful importance — screens on windows, running tap water to brush your teeth, changing into clean clothes every day.”
On their first Haitian trip in 2000, the group, which is associated with the Worcester diocese of the Catholic Church, volunteered in a nursing home. Aided by interpreters, they helped with the Adopt-a-Gram program, filling out personal profiles on the elderly residents — what was special in their lives and how many grandchildren they had. The elders were linked to U.S. sponsors, who send a small contribution each month to help meet medical and personal needs. At this particular nursing home, one Haitian nurse was courageously handling all the care of 41 residents.
They also assisted in a hospital for abandoned children. “Haitian society is 90 percent Christian, but the vast majority continue to practice some form of voodoo,” said Ellen. “They believe illness will come to the family of any child who is not born perfect. These children are often abandoned on the doorsteps of churches. We did medical exams of children with whipworm, roundworm and malnutrition so bad that their hair had turned yellow.”
On its second trip to Haiti, the group was joined by Ellen’s older daughter, Connie, and four other teen-agers from Massachusetts. With them were 24 trunks, each holding 70 pounds of medical supplies, including supplies donated by BWH.
Working in a small clinic, they treated people with malaria, AIDS, tuberculosis and a host of other diseases and infections. The teen-agers took vital signs and offered care and comfort, overcoming their initial squeamishness to help children whose open sores had become infested with insects. “We couldn’t speak Creole, but it’s amazing how universal the language of love is,” said Taylor.
“I’ve wanted to be a nurse since I was 7 years old, when I helped care for my grandfather who was dying of cancer. Going to Haiti just solidified my feelings.” Her sister is planning to become a pediatrician.
The 72-hour internship that Taylor did at BWH in August also cemented her career choice. Supervised closely by preceptors on both the day and night shifts, in the NICU she fed and diapered babies and learned how to take physical assessments. In Labor and Delivery, she was given the opportunity to help cut an umbilical cord and clean the newborns after birth. In the Postpartum units, she learned about lactation and continuing care.
“I was so impressed by the doctor-nurse collaboration at BWH,” she said. “They work so well together as a team for the benefit of the patient.”
An “A” student at Hopkinton High School, Taylor is going into nursing. She believes that if more students took an internship or looked for opportunities to help disadvantaged people, they would understand what is compelling her. “It’s the most hands-on, caring profession,” she said. “I can’t think of anything more fulfilling.”