Nikki is one of our international volunteers serving in Huancayo, Peru. She has been a nurse for the past nine years and is dedicated to bringing care to undeserved communities.

Below, she shares a story that shows how the quick thinking of a community health worker resulted in two lives saved.

To say that the last few months have been eye-opening would be an understatement. It has been amazing to witness the day-to-day work of the CMMB staff members in Huancayo and Trujillo and their passion to protect and care for some of the most vulnerable women and children in Peru.

I’d like to share the story of one young mother named Luz, from Huancayo. When our team first met Luz, she was seven months pregnant, struggling through the dusty, garbage ridden, and unpaved streets of Huancayo with her seven year old son following close behind. She was on her way to the market to buy food for lunch.

I was with nurse Maritza and community health worker Magda, completing one of our community outreach sessions. We had spent the day walking door to door, and talking with the mothers Magda worked with. With them, we shared additional health education and tried to get a sense of how they were doing.

Nutrition Education RN Maritza Huancayo

Nurse Maritza educating a community member about nutrition.

It was by chance that Luz happened to walk by us. Immediately, Magda sprung in to action – walking over, introducing herself, and explaining the work of CMMB in Huancayo. Luz appeared very interested, I remember I was impressed at how intently she listened, despite appearing exhausted and sweaty. After finding a bench for Luz to rest, we quickly learned her story. Though quiet-spoken and reserved, she shared that she was struggling with anemia and depression.

She was eager to ask questions about how to care for her anemia. Right then nurse Maritza was able to determine a weekly plan for supplementation, according to the medications Luz was prescribed for. When we asked more about her depression, Luz did not share much except for the fact that she was a single mother. But, she was open to talking more with us about her situation and invited us to see her home.

Fast forward two months. Returning to the office on a Monday, nurse Maritza shared with me a story from her weekend. Maritza received a call from community health worker Magda late Friday evening, about 30 minutes before the end of the work day. Magda called, expressing concern for the health of one of her mothers, Luz.

Magda quickly explained that Luz’s family had called her, panicked and worried. Luz had recently given birth via cesarean section, and was now home with her newborn. She had been bedridden for the last couple days, shivering and sweating profusely.

Luz did not want to go to the hospital or the local clinic to be checked out, so Magda insisted on a joint home-visit with nurse Maritza so they could check on Luz themselves. When Maritza and Magda arrived at the home, they found Luz in bed, fairly lethargic, dripping with sweat, shivering, and covered up under several of blankets.

It was clear that Luz was feverish. Maritza quickly examined Luz, and feared she had contracted an infection from her C-section. Luz’s baby, only days old, was in a basket in the corner. Luz was so ill that she was unable to feed him and adequately care for him. Maritza and Magda sat down with Luz and her family for nearly 20 minutes, discussing the risks of not receiving medical attention. Finally, Luz agreed to be seen, with Maritza present, at the local health clinic.

Maritza and Magda accompanied Luz to the local clinic, arranging a taxi transport and immediate care once they arrived. With the help of the local doctors, midwives, and nurses, both mother and baby were assessed and cared for. The doctors agreed that Luz had arrived at the clinic just in the nick-of-time. If she had waited any longer, it is likely that she would have gone septic.

They believed Luz had an infection in c-section sight and uterus. She was prescribed a course of antibiotics and told to continue monitoring her wound and to stay hydrated. That night, Luz returned to her family’s home where her mother and sister cared for her.

The next day, nurse Maritza visited Luz. Although Luz had improved she still weak, and the baby appeared to be slightly yellow with jaundice. On the Monday following the weekend, we again visited Luz in her family’s home. She was sitting upright in a chair, feeding her tiny newborn boy. Luz cracked a shy smile as we walked in but, was obviously struggling with nursing.

After a few minutes of guidance and repositioning from Maritza, the baby quickly latched on and began to feed vigorously. At this moment, Luz began to open up more. She shared with us again that she was a single mother. The father of her son was no longer present, she believed he had another family in another city. She shared that he sends money to help with the Luz’s rent, but unfortunately this was the only form of support he offered.

RN Maritza with Newborn & Mom Huancayo

Eventually Luz started to talk about her depression. She recently had to pull her son out of school because she could now afford it and now, she was struggling to find enough money to feed her children. She told us the hardship and the stress has caused her to lose her appetite. She rarely eats, this way saving more food for her son. At this point, she was still very weak with severe anemia. She was not taking her iron supplements and as she put it she was, “Finding it hard to think of something good” amidst all the burdens.

Spending nearly an hour with Luz and her family, Maritza listened intently, discussed the importance of her health in relation to her new baby boy’s, talked about the importance of family support in this time, and discussed a plan that would allow her family to help with some of Luz’s important responsibilities. Over the course of the next few weeks, Maritza and Magda continued with home visits, happy to find Luz improving each time.

Her baby boy no longer had jaundice and was and gaining weight weekly. Luz was able start selling some basic products, giving her more of a steady income. Now, Luz has enough money to feed her family for her seven year old son to return to school.

RN Maritza with Newborn & Mom--handwashing

Nurse Maritza discussing the importance of hand-washing.

This story is unfortunately far too common for women and children living in the communities that CMMB serves in Peru. While the CMMB team can’t tackle every single problem or fix every challenge that the mothers and their children face, they take time to sit with the women, get to know them and their families, and build strong relationships that allow for an openness of communication and trust. Luz’s story is an example of the community health worker model put to the test. Because our community health worker Magda sprung into to action and quickly alerted nurse Maritza about Luz’s worsening condition, they were both able to work promptly and potentially saved the lives of both Luz and her young son.

*For the purpose of this story, Luz’s name was changed to protect the young mother’s identity.

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