Baby's 3-day battle for life ends as aid starts to arrive

Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines scramble for supplies. Photo: Reuters

Todd Pitman

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 on Saturday.

She was born on November 13, five days after Typhoon Haiyan annihilated a vast swathe 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 Centre, 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. Althea could have been saved had the hospital's ventilators 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.

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 was born. With her lungs barely functioning, the only sign of life was a heartbeat.


But Althea's fragile body could not cope and her heartbeat stopped on Saturday evening.

Dr Lesley Rosario said her parents wrapped her body in a small blanket and left in tears.

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.

Meanwhile, mobbed by hungry villagers, US military helicopters dropped desperately-needed aid into remote areas, as survivors of the disaster flocked to ruined churches to pray for their uncertain future.

The Philippines is facing up to an enormous rebuilding task from Typhoon Haiyan, which killed at least 3,974 people and left 1,186 missing, with many isolated communities yet to receive significant aid despite a massive international relief effort.

The government and international aid agencies have a mounting humanitarian crisis, with the number of people displaced by the catastrophe estimated at four million, up from 900,000 late last week.