Camille remembers the constant thirst and urge to urinate, the stinging hunger, and how tired she felt. She was 14 years old, and living with her aunt in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince. Her father had sent her to live with extended family after her mother had passed away 3 years earlier and he struggled to nourish 10 other siblings.
Camille’s aunt took her to a local hospital where she received insulin and felt better quickly. The doctors and nurses told her she would need to inject insulin twice a day to survive, but Camille didn’t understand much more of what had made her sick and what diabetes was. When her aunt was told Camille had diabetes, she was afraid she would die and sent her back home to her native province in rural Haiti to live with her father, new step-mother and siblings.
Camille had mixed feelings. She was looking forward to being reunited with her family, but she also worried about how her family was going to feel about her now that she had diabetes. She still hadn’t recovered her previous weight and looked very skinny – an appearance often likened to HIV / AIDS in Haiti. She also had no idea how her father was going to pay for her insulin and diabetes supplies. Her worries very soon turned into reality. Camille was taken out of school and made to do most of the household chores. Her father and siblings avoided her, and her step-mother was abusive.
Camille felt she was no longer a valued member of the family. In addition, food was often scarce, and her father could not afford to buy insulin. Soon after her return to home, the symptoms she had felt before she was first diagnosed came back. This time, however, she got very sick with belly pain and vomiting, and fell unconscious before her father brought her to the local hospital. She recovered and returned home after a few days, but when the vial of insulin she had received at the hospital was empty, it all started again. After 5 months of being in and out of the hospital, one of the doctors who had heard about a new facility that was offering treatment for children with diabetes, including insulin and diabetes supplies free of charge, referred her to the Kay Mackenson Clinic.
Camille remembers the long 7 hour road trip from the Central Plateau down to coastal St. Marc in the Artibonite region, and how she was sure it had been worth it as soon as she arrived. She was received by a welcoming nurse and a handful of other children who were recently diagnosed with diabetes and staying at the clinic to receive comprehensive education. Camille was excited to learn all about diabetes, its cause in children, and how to take care of her diabetes every day. The nurse explained that diabetes wasn’t a curse and that it wasn’t Camille’s fault she had fallen ill. She told the families that the clinic was supported by the Life for a Child program that would pay for their insulin, syringes, blood sugar meters and strips, and complication screenings.
Camille quickly learned how and when to give her insulin, how to measure her blood sugar, how to distribute her food across the day to match the action of her insulin, and how to detect and treat dangerously high and low blood sugars. She started to regain her weight and after a few weeks felt energetic enough to return home. Hopeful for more family support now that she looked healthy and the financial burden was taken away, she was quickly deceived. She wasn’t allowed to go back to school – her father didn’t think it was worth investing in a “sick” child. Food insecurity was such that she was unable to stick to her food regimen. Her step-mother’s abuse worsened, and eventually, at a regular follow-up at the Kay Mackenson Clinic, she disclosed that her father was also physically abusing her, and that she was afraid to go back home. (Kay Mackenson Clinic exceptionally provides a long-term home to children with diabetes who are in a social situation that is incompatible with their diabetes management and puts their life at risk).
Camille has stayed at Kay Mackenson Clinic since, and at age 17 has turned into an incredibly bright young woman who takes excellent control of her diabetes, is back in school and top of her class, and studies hard towards her goal to becoming a nurse. In her spare time, she likes to lend a hand to the Kay Mackenson nurses and is a resource for newly diagnosed children who arrive at the clinic. One of her favorite moments of the year is diabetes camp, where she was proud to be a leader this year. She is looking forward to helping with the camp organization and leadership next year, and is hoping for an opportunity to begin an exchange with a diabetes camp in Canada.