December 12, 2013

When the typhoon struck the Philippines, Norma and her family ran out of their house. That’s probably what saved their lives. While the typhoon’s winds were devastating, it was the wave that followed that caused the most havoc. “The water rose to the height of three men,” Norma says, stretching her arm to illustrate. “We remained clinging to a fallen coconut tree. Our house? Swept away by the waters.” Norma lost her youngest daughter to the typhoon. Despite the tragedy, she still manages a smile.

Twenty-six-year-old Norma, who was heavily pregnant during the storm, went into labor when she was transferred from her local health center in the village of Julieta the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) inflatable hospital in the city of Tacloban. It was a breech delivery, in which the baby was coming out feet-first—a risky situation.

“We could see the baby’s feet, and it was too late to do a Caesarean [section],” says MSF pediatrician Daniel Martinez Garcia. “This kind of delivery is very complicated. But we’d only been working in the hospital for a few days—there was still no electricity, no water, and we didn’t have all the equipment we needed.”

As Norma’s labor progressed, the baby’s head got stuck, putting it in danger of asphyxiation and cardiac and respiratory arrest. “After a long resuscitation, the baby regained consciousness, but I was afraid there might be significant neurological damage,” says Martinez Garcia. “But, fortunately, today she’s fine—she is active and healthy.”

Norma is eager to go home, to the house rebuilt by her family since she has been in hospital. But she knows that her baby needs to be monitored for several more days.

In the neonatal unit, set up by MSF in the aftermath of the typhoon, there are five newborn babies, all born prematurely and with low birth weights. It is the first time that MSF has set up a service of this kind in an initial emergency response, but with the local health system so badly affected, it was clear that there was a need for it. “In this particular context, the main needs are for pediatrics, general consultations, and maternity care, more than for trauma injuries,” says Martinez Garcia.

Norma, a radiant smile on her face, admires her new baby. “She looks a lot like her big sister—the child we lost,” she says. “Now she is the only daughter of the family. I will call her Hope—Kriziah Hope—because she survived the typhoon.”