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Ana Ruth's Baby Boy

June 9, 2007

Bruce and Linda Hanson - Honduras

Today I received the news that Ana Ruth's newborn baby had died.  Ana Ruth is one of my students in theology, a courageous, outgoing leader of the Methodist church, and a local church pastor.  She is especially passionate about gender issues in Honduras and the Honduran church.

Ana Ruth knew hers was a high risk pregnancy.  During her previous pregnancies she had struggled with high blood pressure and premature deliveries.  She had already suffered the loss of one newborn and with her second pregnancy, a lengthy and difficult recuperation for both herself and her son.  She was carefully monitored throughout her pregnancy, and when it became clear that her blood pressure was uncontrollable, that both she and the baby were in extreme danger, it was decided to do a caesarian, although Ana Ruth was only 7 months pregnant. 

Mother and baby came through the caesarian fine.  But, because of limited resources, the only option Ana Ruth had to deliver her baby was Hospital Escuela, the nightmarish public hospital where patients sleep on mattresses without sheets or on foam mats on the floor, where peeling paint, dripping water pipes, faulty showers and falling ceiling tiles create a depressing ambience foretelling the hell that awaits those who enter. 

We had visited Hospital Escuela just the week before with a group from Barton College in North Carolina.  Some of the nursing students were, incredulously, able to witness to the birth of a baby on the stairway (the elevators at the Hospital Escuela have not functioned for years).  We visited the room, maybe 20' x 20' where the pediatric patients all slept side by side on foam mats on the floor, awaiting the decontamination of the pediatric rooms from some contagious disease that had passed through the week before.  We talked to the mothers in the unit with the babies under one year old who spent days at the side of their children, unable to leave even to get something to eat.  We listened to Lyda, the compassionate nurse who has struggled to provide care in these most difficult circumstances tell of the need for simple things like toys in the pediatrics wing, sheets and blankets for the patients, a hot water heater to give warm baths and wash hands to prevent the spread of disease and gloves to protect patients and nurses alike.

Ana Ruth's baby boy fell sick with an infection soon after his birth, one acquired in the hospital because of unsanitary conditions.  Ana Ruth also became sick with a urinary tract infection, also acquired in the hospital.  As her premature baby struggled to survive, with limited basics including antibiotics, oxygen, and needles the nurses needed to start his intravenous line, Ana Ruth became despondent.  She knew his chances were slim, not because he couldn't be saved, but because she couldn't afford to take him to a better hospital where he had a chance.

Across town, in Hospital Medical Center, is a state of the art hospital filled with modern equipment, all the supplies and medications needed--and mostly empty rooms.  It is reserved for the elite few who can afford to pay privately for health care.  Even though the costs at Hospital Medical Center are much lower than medical costs in the United States (a CT scan is $100, simple blood work around $5, a night in the hospital $55) most Hondurans cannot afford the costs. Ana Ruth speculated that had her baby been there, he would still be alive.  She speaks of the guilt of not being able to offer this to her newborn, at not being able to afford to give him the gift of life.  But she also speaks of having learned from her experience, of feeling even more in solidarity with her impoverished sisters who experience similar circumstances daily in Honduras. 

At two weeks of age Ana Ruth's tiny baby boy died.  His death certificate will say that he died of an infection.  But Ana Ruth knows, and I know, that he died the result of a massive system of injustices that maintain Honduran poverty, that sustain corrupt governments, that limits basic services, that that devalues human life and that allows newborn babies to die for lack of a few hundred dollars. 

Linda Hanson
Bruce and Linda Hanson are assigned to the Christian Commission on Development (CCD) to serve the Honduran Theological Community (CTH).  Bruce is teaching HIV/AIDS education, prevention and care, while Linda is teaching theological courses.

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