Antonio passed away last weekend.
We wanted to tell the family how much grief and sorrow we were feeling for them, but ‘Lo siento,’ just didn’t seem adequate. We could hear mom wailing in agony, and it was heart wrenching, and also frustrating. Heart wrenching, in that I think I can understand how crushing to your spirit it would be to lose your child. Frustrating, in that his death could have been avoided.
‘Antonio’ was only two years old. 3 weeks ago, New Year’s morning, He and his little sister were brought in early after escaping a house fire. Likely started by a candle left burning, the house contained 4 children who were unsupervised. I’m told a teenage boy doused himself in water before storming the house to save the children. He quickly saw that 2 were already dead, but rescued Antonio and his little sister. Both had severe burns over much of their body, but Antonio was definitely much worse off than his little sister.
He had burns on upwards of 35% of his body, including his head and face. This is life-threatening in the best of circumstances. In the States he would have been shipped to a pediatric burn ward, intubated, and had constant monitoring. Here in Honduras, we had to improvise. Luckily, we have incredibly competent and dedicated doctors here, and I watched as several of them poured their hearts and minds into caring for this beautiful little Garifuna fellow and his sister.
It was very touch and go at first, and we were prepared for the worst outcome with him. But against the odds, he did well. People with extensive burns have complicated healing courses that often involve kidney and electrolyte challenges. He and his sister were looking at having some substantial grafting of these ‘3rd degree’ burns. He had daily dressing changes that were an ordeal for both he and the doctors and nurses who did them. Dr. Michael Heiland, a resident doctor who spent the month with us, told me that the little guy started calling him Tio (Uncle), and would start crying immediately when he saw him coming to do the bandages. It was a painstaking process to care for these burns. But day by day, Antonio was appearing better–eating, peeing, pooping, interacting… We really thought we were out of the woods. Until Saturday…
As the sweat was pouring down my back while I dug a hole in the front yard, Dave hollered across the field to me, “they just called a code blue!” We both scrambled onto our motorcycles and sped down the hill toward the hospital. (ok, quick tangent: It’s not actually my motorcycle, it’s Dr. Peter’s. But he’s away for a bit and said I could use it. And I know I’ve said before on this blog that I wasn’t going to drive a motorcycle because the number one cause of death for missionaries is motor vehicle accidents, and motorcycles are pretty dangerous. But… It’s just so dang fun to drive that I can’t help it. I mean, I’m already living in Honduras, might as well just go all the way, right? Anyway, back to my sad tale)
I didn’t imagine that we would be heading down the hill on our way to resuscitate Antonio; I would have much preferred to find an 85 year old man in the ER who had lived a nice long life. But it was to Antonio’s room that we went. Anytime we have to run a ‘code’ there is certainly an incredible sense of urgency. But when it involves a child, the stakes are that much higher. Every doctor we have and almost every nurse showed up within minutes for this task. We literally poured everything we had into saving this little guy, sweat dripping off our faces as we did cpr, put tubes in him, breathed for him, gave him medicines. But alas, He didn’t come back.
After we called the time of death, numb with grief, we busied about the room cleaning up and making it presentable to the family that would come to see him. I watched as Dr. Dave tenderly picked him up and carefully swaddled him in a sheet. Straightening it, he tucked him in just right, then set him gently back down. I was reminded of the investment in this life that was given in great love. I had watched for 3 weeks as Dr. Dave checked on these children 3, 4, and 5 times a day to make sure they were ok. I had seen him and Dr. Jeff perseverating over how to treat the burns best. Reading guidelines, emailing specialists, collaborating with each other. Aided by Dr. Michael. And Drs Judy and Cortney. And the nurses. Everyone pulling for him, and loving on him.
I came back down later that night, and saw his mom. All I could do was meet her eyes, with sympathy in my glance. I spoke with some of the Honduran authorities who were there. Unfortunately, due to the neglect that had occurred during the house fire (no adults in a house full of kids in the middle of the night), the mother had lost custody of the children, and so the police were involved. As I spoke with them about the events of his death, I was able to finally express our sadness better than ‘Lo siento.’ —“nuestros corazones están llorando…” Our hearts are crying.
We have every confidence that this little guy is sitting at the feet of Jesus, experiencing pure Joy. But it is for this family, and the providers here at Loma de Luz that loved on this little guy, that I ask for your prayers. Peace, acceptance, and trust.