Barbados Haemophilia Association

Barbados… Holding

The bustling airport, the long lines, new hotels popping up… all speak to a brisk tourism that provides the tiny island nation of Barbados with a staggering 17.5% of its $4.8 billion GDP. But hemophilia remains a quiet part of this country of 281,000.

Laurie with the members of the Barbados Haemophilia Association

I last visited in 2014, when I had already made contact with Sofia, a young mother there in need of factor. I sent her some and in turn, with a bit of guidance, she was kind enough and motivated to start the Barbados Haemophilia Association, which continues this day. She has since left the island to raise her child in the United States, and Erica Worrell, another mother, took over as president.

It’s not easy. And like many businesses, nonprofits and lives in general, momentum was cut short by the pandemic. This was my first real country visit for hemophilia-related purposes, since the pandemic. I last saw Erica on the streets of Glasgow, Scotland in 2018, following the World Federation of Hemophilia Congress, as we were both window shopping. I looked forward to hearing how things were going; what were the factor needs; what were next steps?

After a lovely luncheon I hosted today for some of the families, I can see that hemophilia in Barbados seems in a holding pattern.

There is much potential. It’s a small island; only 33 patients known patients, with quite a few related. The government even buys some factor. They have a powerhouse of a nurse in Virginia, who knows everyone and knows hemophilia.

Unfortunately, the ERs do not. Despite the BHA’s best efforts, Jeffrey, a man with hemophilia B who I met the last visit, said, “I’m scared to go to the hospital.” Apparently the ER staff, as in many developing countries, do not place hemophilia as a priority (if they can’t see the bleed), and do not listen to the urgent requests of the patients or parents.

Erica Worrell, president of BHA

They also have problems with racial divides, believe it or not. There is a parish (like a county) called St. John’s, where descendants of the Scottish and Irish indentured servants or forced laborers who once landed here hundreds of years ago settled. They tent to keep to themselves. There are hemophilia patients there, but not much is known about them.

Access to factor is good, when it is available. What is provided by the government and by the WFH is typically not enough to meet needs. Though it certainly is much better since I visited in 2014! Erica and the BHA are well connected now to the WFH, which was one goal of forming the BHA.

Jeffrey was one of 11 children growing up in the 60s. One brother also has hemophilia. His nephew, Leemar, and I are good friends now on Facebook messenger, and he lets me know when he needs factor (FEIBA or NovoSeven). A great-nephew, Konnor, was also there, a rising star! He has big dreams to become a hematologist, and something tells me he is going to succeed.

Laurie with Leemar

At least things are completely better than when Jeffrey was young. He tells me mischievously that as one of 11 children, “They couldn’t keep on eye on me so much!” He is famous as a teen for cliff diving… without factor! He describes the pain he endured as a “monster. You could feel it creeping up on you, thump, thump, as the knee got bigger and bigger.” The pain was excruciating, but Jeffrey tried to be stoic. Life was measured second by second then.

Thankfully now, because of the combined efforts of the BHA, WFH, and the dynamic nurse Virginia, a new generation has a chance. Barbados seems a bit paused, but it is starting to rise again, like the rest of the post-pandemic world. Erica already has a new idea for a comic-book style publication about the Jeffrey’s story, Leemar’s story… everyone’s. It’s a great idea, so long as they leave our Jeffrey’s cliff-diving escapades!

We parted as good friends, and they dispersed with the bundle of factor and medical supplies I brought. I’ll be back next year, with more factor, supplies and hoping to see activities and a new comic book!

Barbados: Preparing Leaders for Change

Sofia Codrington

Last Sunday, I had a nice flight back from Union Island to Kingstown, St. Vincent, and Martin Jennett, the pilot, was so supportive of the work we do at Save One Life,  he gave me a huge discount on the charter flight price, only $100 (compared to $160 going over). We said our good-byes, and then I waited to board my flight to Bridgetown, Barbados. I sat in the little airport café, sweating in the humid air, answering email and reading.  It was a quick flight to Barbados.

I settled in at a pizza place (Chefette) at the airport to wait for and in a little while, a lady and son came up to me—Sofia! And her four-year-old Aaron, who has hemophilia. We embraced and as always, when you meet another mom (or dad) of a child with hemophilia, it really doesn’t matter your nationality, race, religion. We are all family.

Sofia had asked me to come and visit, as no one from the hemophilia community has been here before (that I know of). She is interested in starting a hemophilia society. We hold Aaron’s hand– he is a live wire–and go to the parking lot, stuff the suitcases in and drive to the Marriott, not too far away. I am nursing a very sore throat. Sofia drove me to the Marriott, and we said our goodbyes.
Monday February 10, 2014
II had a leisurely morning, breakfast downstairs and then waiting for Sofia. And waited. Island culture—island time. Things will happen when they happen!
When she arrived, we had a chat. She explained about how she learned Aaron had hemophilia: He was 9.8 lbs at birth, seemingly normal. At 9 months he began crying all the time, and his knee was swollen. She took him to Dr. Inniss, her pediatrician, who sent her to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), the only public hospital on the island. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong. They admitted him and did a biopsy on the knee! And they did an x-ray but never saw a bleed. The knee was traumatized but eventually the bleeding stopped and went down by itself.
In 2009 Sofia went to New York for a vacation, as a relative is there. Aaron had had a
fever. As the plane was landing Aaron cried and cried, inconsolable. No one knew but he was having a spontaneous head bleed. They took Aaron to Long Island
Jewish Hospital, a good HTC, and Dr. Richard Lipton helped determine this was a
cranial bleed. They ordered a CT scan. She said they told her, another 15
minutes and the damage might have been irreparable. Now they realized he had
hemophilia. Her cousin finally told her that her dad and both uncles had it! Aaron
stayed at LIJH for 6 months, and received factor. And there seems to be no permanent damage, thankfully.
Sofia explained how hemophilia is treated. Here in Barbados, everyone gets free factor. But I questioned what exactly does that mean? An unlimited supply? No. It means that the government buys a certain amount for the year, and whatever is there, you can use and don’t get
charged for. But inevitably it’s not enough and gets used quickly. This is why a few patients had recently contacted us for a donation.
Sofia also mentioned Aaron’s dosage, 1700 IU for a 4 year old, three times a week. This dosage seemed excessive.
We then drove to meet with Dr. Patricia Inniss, Aaron’s pediatrician. We waited about an hour and a half in her waiting room. It seems our day is
filled with waiting, waiting. No lunch. My throat got worse as the day went on. It was hard to maintain a conversation as I could hardly speak.
Finally we were let in. Dr. Innis is a lovely woman, graceful and civil. I gave her our toddler books about hemophilia, and asked her about Aaron, and the state of hemophilia on the island. I asked Dr. Inniss about Aaron’s prescription; why a 4 year old is be given 1700 IU, enough for a teenager. She wasn’t sure.  So we talked about lowering his dose.
After that we drove to meet with Ms. Maryam Hinds, director of Drug Services of Barbados. Gentle, articulate, devoted. We had a nice
chat. She showed me the drug formularies, the tender and explained how factor was procured.  According to her, they spend only enough money for 75,000 IU of factor VIII, much less than what one American child uses in one year! But at least Barbados is buying some. Many countries that have much more money than Barbados don’t even buy factor.
Queen Elizabeth Hospital

No one seems to know how many patients are on the island. I calculated 20? But one doctor later estimated 50. This, I told Sofia, is where a patient organization can really help out, by reaching out to patients in all the “parishes,” as they call them—St. John’s, St. Andrew’s, etc.

Tuesday February 11. My voice is gone and I can only whisper now, which is unfortunate as we meet with hospital doctors today.  Today’s meetings warrant a dress, and Sofia drives us to meet the hematology staff at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH). The hospital is your basic, underfunded public hospital in a developing country, yet it buys factor, which is astounding. We go to hematology and meet with Dr. Laurent, Dr. Hawkins (originally from England) and a student. Laurent accepted our donation of factor, looked into the bag,  passed over any thank you to sadly ask, “No
NovoSeven?” Which I guess shows the state of desperation here.

Hematology Ward

She painted a picture of hemophilia on the island. One patient is a fisherman, and he was forever getting cut with hooks, cleaning knives, etc. They asked him to think about getting another job perhaps? They
also mention the “poor whites,” on the other side of the island. This raised our eyebrows as being a politically incorrect thing to say, but yes, this is a real term used here.
The “poor whites” are  descendants of an estimated 50,000 white slaves  transported from Ireland to Barbados between 1652 and 1657. I read on line “Having succeeded in recruiting Irish men to die in the services of France, Spain, Poland and Italy, Cromwell turned his attention to others – men and
women press-ganged by soldiers, taken to Cork and shipped to Bristol where they
were sold as slaves and transported to Barbados.” They are now called “poor
whites,” or Red Legs or Red Shanks. They live in St. John parish and no one
knows much about them except they have hemophilia among them; they tend to intermarry and not mingle with the blacks. I thought that would make for a very interesting visit my next time around.
After our meeting,  we went with Sofia to the pharmacy and waited till her number was called. She received quite a few boxes of FVIII. More concerning was that Aaron gets an allergic reaction to each infusion of these. I told her that her hematologist needs to let the manufacturer know.
We then drove a long way round the island to visit Dr. Chris Nicholls, her hematologist. He’s a nice guy. Young, responsive, communicative, smiling. When I carefully broached the subject of Aaron’s dosage, he agreed that we needed to look into this. When I carefully broached the subject
of Aaron’s allergic reaction, he was also in agreement that the manufacturer needed to be contacted. It’s great to find a doctor so agreeable and open-minded. He lamented that no medical records here are kept digitally; all records are kept on paper! He studied in the UK and just returned not even four years ago here. He works in the QEH but also has his own practice. We asked if he might be interested in forming a nonprofit with Sofia,
and he agreed.

Mel with Sofia: Outreach to other families

Last, we drove some more to visit a mother—Melanie. Sofia told us she runs a “shop,” and I pictured a little boutique. Not even close; it was a roadside stand, the kind covered with tarp that sells chips and drinks. Mel’s little son Remel fought desperately to hide from me though it was more like a game. Nothing we did could entice him to stay still for a picture. This led to an instant bonding which was good. We all laughed
at ourselves trying to get Remel to be still. Finally I tricked him and as he turned the corner, caught him in a great shot. I jumped in the air and pumped my fist, and the mom, and the neighbors sitting and watching all applauded! It was great.
Melanie told us that she has nephews with hemophilia in Guyana. I said we knew two brothers, Laurence and Lloyd… and she said that is them! What a small world! We’ve been helping her nephews for a long time.  Another bonding moment.

Laurie with Aaron

Remel has factor VIII deficiency

February 12, Wednesday evening. Sofia invited local families with hemophilia to meet us at our hotel for dinner. We were surprised at how many came, including two in wheelchairs—Jeffrey and Leemar, who we both sent factor to recently.
Dinner with Barbadian families

There was Kole and Kim, whose son Konnor has FIX—a handsome couple. Jeffrey, age 61, a real
hoot… great outlook and sense of humor. Ansley Marshall, with son Caiel. And Leemar, age 26, FIX with an inhibitor, so sweet, gentle and funny! Born only a month before my son, but
a world away. He has suffered horrifically. Jeffrey is his uncle. They both
spoke about what the pain was like: four nights, no sleep. You don’t want anyone
near you. No one can do anything for you to alleviate the pain. Jeffrey said,
“And you just pray for a few seconds, just a few seconds, of no pain so you can
have some relief.” The pain comes in waves, like the ocean that pummels the beaches
on this beautiful island. Leemar’s friend who brought him was interested and
asked questions. Such bright young men.

Dinner with Barbadian families

We took a photo, I paid the check for the dinner and drinks we bought for everyone, and promised to follow up with books and materials. I gave a pep talk about change and what they can do as patients and leaders to improve medical care and access to factor. But it wasn’t my best as my poor voice was at an end. But it was a great way to end a great trip.

The origin of the name Barbados?The name is Portuguese. The reference of the Portuguese to the island as Los Barbados (the bearded ones) is believed to describe the bearded fig trees on the island.

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