The Winning Goal: Treating Malaria in the aftermath of Haiti

Wilson has always loved to play soccer, especially the feeling of kicking the winning goal. This was a sensation that at only 20 years old Wilson very nearly lost forever, but thanks to the quick and thorough care of International Medical Corps volunteer doctors and nurses, he is now returning home to play the game he loves.

I met Wilson on his eighth day at the University Hospital in downtown Port-au-Prince, where he was making small laps around the ICU tent braced by a walker and his family beside him.

Aside from the walker, everything about Wilson looked healthy and strong, from his slender, athletic frame to his easy, fluid smile. I wondered what could have made this young athlete so cripplingly sick to land him in the ICU for a week unable to walk.

The answer is malaria.

Transmitted by mosquitoes, malaria infected an estimated 243 million people and led to nearly 900,000 deaths in 2008, according to the WHO. It is endemic in Haiti and affects tens of thousands each year. The predominant strain in the country P.falcipurum or cerebral malaria is the most deadly and can lead to impaired consciousness, convulsions, and coma.

Wilson’s story is probably not too uncommon for post-earthquake Haiti. Displaced by the earthquake, Wilson now lives with 16 of his family members in a camp in Carrefour, just outside Port-au-Prince. One day, he started to feel nauseous. The flu-like symptoms continued for an entire week and then, on the eighth day, Wilson’s legs gave out. “I could not even stand,” he said.

Wilson panicked and sought medical attention immediately. His cousin carried him all the way from their camp, taking buses or tap taps wherever they could until they reached the University Hospital. He was rushed into the emergency room where International Medical Corps volunteers received him, completely unable to use his legs, and quickly tested him for malaria. When it came back positive, they transferred him to the ICU for round-the-clock monitoring and treatment.

Over the course of a week, Wilson’s movement and condition improved bit-by-bit. He began physical therapy to strengthen and stretch his legs. Eventually, he could stand, and then walk, on his own. “The care, everything, was perfect,”he said with a grin.

And now Wilson, having defeated malaria and regaining his strength by the day, is well enough to head home. “I am so proud of you,”said Mary Perry, a volunteer nurse with International Medical Corps who worked in the ICU for two weeks. “When he got here, he couldn’t even stand and now look at him.”

Watching Wilson smile and laugh with his family, so excited to get home and play football with his friends, I felt so proud and inspired by what he and volunteers like Mary Perry overcame in this swelteringly hot ICU tent following one of the most catastrophic disasters in centuries.

It’s the ultimate winning goal.

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