Philippines: A Premature Baby Goes Home on Christmas Day

Philippines 2013 © Sophie-Jane Madden/MSF

Angel Corate gave birth to baby Janel on December 16 by Caesarean section. She underwent this lifesaving operation, and she and Janel received ongoing care, at the maternity ward and newborn unit in the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) inflatable hospital in Tacloban. Nine days later, Angel and Janel were discharged on Christmas Day, just in time to celebrate with their family.

Janel Corate was born one month premature on Monday, December 16. Her mother, 31-year-old Angel, had been rushed to MSF’s inflatable hospital in Tacloban from another MSF health facility in nearby Tanauan.

A Risky Birth

MSF’s Tanauan hospital has no operating theater, so doctors there could not perform the lifesaving Caesarean that Angel needed after she was diagnosed with placenta praevia, a condition that puts mother and child at risk. A mother with placenta praevia can bleed to death during a natural birth. “This really was a lifesaving intervention for mother and baby,” said Dr. Natalie Roberts, MSF’s project coordinator in Tacloban.

From birth, Janel had a good chance of surviving, but she weighed just 1.9 kilograms [about four pounds] and was not feeding well. She also developed jaundice. MSF’s medical team gave her phototherapy [a treatment that uses fluorescent light to reduce the high bilirubin levels that cause jaundice in newborns] and support with feeding, and nine days later she and Angel were allowed to go home to join her two sisters, brother, and father for Christmas.

“I feel so excited about taking her home for Christmas,” said Angel, just before she and Janel were discharged. “I’m so excited to celebrate Christmas with my daughter. I felt so worried about her when she was born.”

Surviving the Storm

Angel is a survivor of Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Typhoon Yolanda. “Maybe one day I will tell [Janel] what happened,” she says.

During the typhoon, Angel and her family sheltered in a building in the town of Tanauan with 80 other people. When the building flooded, they went upstairs to the second floor. The storm carried on for three hours and eventually the roof blew off.

“I felt afraid then, and I feel afraid now because the storm was so strong. The babies and children were crying, everyone was crying. We were so afraid.”

Tanauan was hit incredibly hard by the storm. 1,300 people, including Angel’s five-year-old niece, were killed by the typhoon, and more than 1,000 people are still missing. One school in the area will be missing 59 pupils when it reopens in January.

Most buildings in the town were severely damaged and, although most roads are now clear, the town is still covered in debris. MSF’s 25-bed tented hospital in Tanauan has an emergency room, a pediatric ward, and a maternity unit, and teams are running mobile clinics in the surrounding area.

When the storm weakened, Angel and her family went outside. “It looked like the end of the earth. It was so dark—you couldn’t see anything.”

Food was hard to come by—Angel did not eat for two days. “We had only water—no food, not even rice—everything had washed away.”

They had to cope with horrific conditions. “The smell was terrible because of the bodies. My family slept beside dead bodies for two days because so many people were dead.”

Hope for the Future

Angel’s home was destroyed by the typhoon, so she and her family are staying at her brother’s house. A tent where the roof should be provides some protection from the ongoing rainy season.

Angel and her family are still coming to terms with the terrible toll of the typhoon. But her new baby gives her hope. “I hope we can recover because we have a new baby,” said Angel, just before she left for home.

MSF’s hospital in Tacloban is housed in inflatable tents and in restored rooms of the city’s Bethany hospital, which was badly damaged by the typhoon and is currently closed.

The hospital has an emergency room, two operating theaters, inpatient and outpatient departments, a blood bank, and maternity and neonatal units. It also offers counseling. It is one of only two referral hospitals for secondary health care and surgical cases in Tacloban.

Since the typhoon, in Tacloban alone MSF has performed more than 6,000 outpatient consultations, managed more than 1,000 emergency cases, performed 250 surgeries, and delivered more than 100 babies. 

Janel Corate.
Philippines 2013 © Sophie-Jane Madden/MSF