It Takes a Village ... and a Very Special Child

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From left: Coburn, Kade, Addie, Avery and Sue Allen with Comerson, the Haitian boy the family is adopting. (Photo by Brent Rutland)

Recently, Dr. Coburn Allen's charitable work in Haiti was spotlighted in the Austin American-Statesman and on the website of Emergency Services Partners. An emergency physician and head of the pediatric emergency fellowship program at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, Dr. Allen is establishing a new medical clinic in the Haitian village of Neply. In addition, he and his wife Sue are adopting Comerson, an HIV-positive boy they believe is about two years old. Here is the story that appeared in the Statesman:

By Patrick Beach, Austin American-Statesman

It’s no surprise that Dr. Coburn Allen has spent a good chunk of his life bringing medical care to people in underserved corners of the world. He says he has known he wanted to be a pediatrician since he was five years old, and he inherited a sense of wanderlust from his mother, who served in the Peace Corps outside Mexico City.

He said he volunteered his services after the horrific earthquake in Haiti in early 2010, partly because he was doing research on how to rehydrate people “in a mass casualty situation,” but wasn’t selected. Now he has embarked on a more extended mission: He’s medical director at a new clinic in the Haitian village of Neply, where medical care is all but nonexistent.

And he and his wife, Sue, are in the process of adopting a Haitian boy named Comerson, whom they believe to about 2 years old. He’s HIV-positive and was found after being left to die in a trash bin. He and Sue have been told it might be another year or 18 months before they can bring the boy to his new home.

Allen — a physician with Emergency Service Partners L.P. who works out of the emergency department at Dell Children’s Medical Center — also heads up a new pediatric emergency medicine fellowship at Dell Children’s for UT Southwestern Austin. His schedule at home is flexible enough that he’s able to make periodic trips to Haiti, where, in addition to establishing the new clinic, his work has expanded to an orphanage, a school and the surrounding village.

“My whole life I’ve wanted to form something sustainable,” he said. “It’s not about me going down there and feeling good about myself. I don’t want a bunch of white doctors running this clinic.”

Some 20 to 30 people — children and adults — are seen daily, he estimates. The challenges are daunting. It is a part of the world where water supplies are contaminated, where malnutrition is rampant (Allen says the majority of the caloric intake for children in the village comes via sugar cane) and where special needs children “are literally thrown away — they’re found in ditches.” Even simple anti-malarial drugs have to be, shall we say, creatively imported into the country. The work is funded by MyLifeSpeaks, a nongovernmental organization.
“It’s harder medicine than what I do here,” said Allen, who specializes in pediatric infectious diseases.

He expects to return every two to three months, and it has become a family affair, with his wife and three older children eager to visit, especially with the anticipation of welcoming Comerson to the family permanently. He expects to expand the work to surrounding villages, where hope remains in short supply.

“My end game is to get the clinic self-sufficient,” Allen said.

And that means, with work, things will be better for the village and surrounding ones. And with work, and hope, things will be better for Comerson, whose name, Allen said, in French Creole means “new beginning.”

Posted with permission from the Austin American-Statesman.

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From left: Coburn, Kade, Addie, Avery and Sue Allen with Comerson, the Haitian boy the family is adopting. (Photo by Brent Rutland)