Olathe & Southwest Joco

JoCo nonprofit supplies healthcare, support to Haitian moms and babies

Each Wednesday at the Maison de Naissance in Torbeck, Haiti, young mothers bring their babies for nutrition checks and vaccinations
Each Wednesday at the Maison de Naissance in Torbeck, Haiti, young mothers bring their babies for nutrition checks and vaccinations Courtesy photo

For thousands of Haitian mothers and babies, The Global Birthing Home Foundation has been a blessing, allowing them to build a prosperous future.

Founded by local physicians Stan Shaffer and Betsy Wickstrom in 2004, the Johnson County nonprofit planned and oversaw the development of Maison de Naissance (“Home of Birth” in French), a maternal health and birthing center in the southwest Haitian city of Torbeck. Since opening, the foundation has helped support the healthy birth of nearly 6,000 babies at the center.

The Maison also offers numerous other healthcare services, including pre- and post-natal care, infant care, family planning, well-baby checkups, immunizations and home visits. In 2017 the group provided more than 53,000 patient consultations to those in Torbeck and neighboring communities.

Shaffer and Wickstrom took a trip to Haiti in 2003, and were inspired by the organization’s mission.

“We went to speak to students at an obstetric conference and they gave us a tour of the general hospital in Port au Prince,” said Wickstrom, a maternal fetal medicine specialist. “We saw, firsthand, the poor level of prenatal and maternity care there. Treatable complications became severe and deadly.

“Brilliant, experienced and diligent healthcare providers were working without even the minimal equipment, medication and supplies. It was heartbreaking.”

The two asked themselves this question: “Why can’t we, with simple measures we take for granted in the United States, do something.” Wickstrom said.

“We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, but the more we researched, the more we realized we needed to start from scratch. We also wanted to learn the root causes of why these women didn’t seek or have prenatal care.”

Over the next few months, Wickstrom, Shaffer and their team put together plans to address those roots and break down barriers to education, transportation and access to care.

The group then returned to Haiti, located a property for Maison de Naissance and opened the doors less than a year later.

From the outset, one of the Foundation’s key objectives has been to keep the maternity center staffed and supplied at all times.

Today, the 33-member Haitian staff includes professional midwives, nurses and community health workers. Together, they provide maternal and infant healthcare for a population drawn from dozens of small towns and villages in the surrounding area.

“One of our founding tenets was to build a Haitian staff to run the Maison independently,” Wickstrom said. “Their hard work, diligence and excellence in clinical care is responsible for our success and zero deaths. We provide education and support to do this life-saving work, but they are the ones doing it.”

Midwife and Maison de Naissance director since 2014 Rosena Baptiste has both seen and supervised the Foundation’s life-altering impact in her country.

“Maternal health care is accessible and available to all mothers now,” she said. “The quality care we offer contributes to the reduction of maternal and infant mortality in Torbeck and surrounding areas. Every woman has the opportunity to give birth in optimal health conditions here, and our services are highly appreciated by local authorities and the people who receive our care.”

Extensive experience and training are at the core of this care.

“The staff has a vast background caring for patients with diverse issues,” Baptiste said. “This allows them to easily differentiate between a normal pregnancy and one which is high risk for the mother and/or the fetus. They also benefit from continuous training.

“Patient management is done in teams, which promotes the sharing of knowledge and experience between more and less experienced team members and helps all to grow. And equipment and supplies are always within reach.”

Over the past 14 years, the impact of the Global Birthing Home Foundation has extended far beyond the medical care of mothers and babies.

“My hope was to keep women from dying in childbirth,” Wickstrom said. “I never dreamed it would have such a huge effect on the entire community.”

Economic conditions have improved around the birth center.

When you drive through the region of the birthing center, homes have concrete floors rather than dirt. Unplanted land is now planted with crops and there’s much more livestock in the fields.”

Looking to the future, Wickstrom wants to help ensure that every mom and baby have a healthy life, regardless of the country they call home.

“Our hope is to take what has been a very successful program and obtain funding to replicate the program in Haiti and other countries. That’s why we named ourselves the Global Birthing Home Foundation.”

For more information or to make a donation, visit Global Birthing Home Foundation.