TACLOBAN, Philippines (AP) — All through her very short life, the parents had squeezed oxygen into her tiny body with a hand-held pump to keep her alive.
In the end, their prayers and whatever little medical care doctors could muster in the typhoon-ravaged hospital were not enough. Althea Mustacia, aged three days, died Saturday. She was born on Nov. 13, five days after Typhoon Haiyan annihilated a vast swath of the Philippines, killing thousands. The storm’s aftermath is still claiming victims, and Althea was among the latest.
She was born at the government-run Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center, suffering from a condition called newborn asphyxia, a failure to start regular breathing within a minute of birth. The consequences are possible brain damage or death if not corrected quickly.
According to the World Health Organization, newborn asphyxia is one of the leading causes of newborn deaths in developing countries, accounting for about 20 percent of the infant mortality rate. In the United States, it is the 10th leading cause of infant mortality.
Althea could have been saved had the hospital’s ventilators had been working. But power lines were down in the entire region. There was no electricity and none of the equipment in the hospital — flooded and wrecked — worked. Not the ventilators, not the incubators, not the suction pumps to feed her oxygen.
Instead, her parents had to push life into her mouth with a hand-held pump connected to an oxygen tank. They took turns to do this continuously since she came into this world without stopping. With her lungs barely functioning, the only sign of life in the infant was a heartbeat.
But Althea’s fragile body could not cope. Even the heartbeat stopped on Saturday evening, a few hours after an Associated Press team visited the hospital. The attending physician, Dr. Leslie Rosario, told the AP that her parents wrapped her body in a small blanket and left in tears.
She said the storm had not been a factor in the baby’s problems, noting that insufficient prenatal care most likely complicated the pregnancy for the 18-year-old mother. The baby was not born premature.
Althea was one of the 24 babies at the hospital’s neo-natal ward, which had to be shifted from the ground floor to a chapel one story above because everything on the bottom floor had been ruined by the storm.
The chapel’s 28 pews are now occupied by some mothers, resting with IV drips in their arms. Until Saturday, the makeshift ward in the chapel had no light except candles. One small fluorescent bulb attached to a diesel generator was hung Saturday in the middle of the room where a few packs of diapers sat on the altar below a picture of Jesus.