Tiny Baby Last Hope for Colombian Hospital

The main children's hospital in Bogota, Colombia, is being threatened with closure because the facility simply can't find the money to keep operating. One tiny baby is now the hospital's only patient — and may be the hospital's last hope to stay open.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.

In Bogotá, Columbia, the old Mothers and Children's Hospital is dying. It's suffering the same afflictions as do many other public hospitals in Latin America: not enough money, too much mismanagement. Now this hospital in Bogotá has just one remaining patient.

NPR's Juan Forero has this report.

(Soundbite of baby crying)

JUAN FORERO: The Instituto (Spanish spoken), or Mothers and Children's Institute, is enormous - five floors, hundreds of rooms. In its 60-plus years it has served over 150,000 children. Now the halls are quiet, save for the rubber shoes of a nurse giving a tour. The only medical activity is in Intensive Care Unit 2 on the fifth floor. That's where Juan David has lived since his birth in March. He was premature, his lungs were barely functioning, and he has neurological problems. His mother had delivered, then abandoned him.

In Columbia, public hospitals racked by debt have closed, victims of state efforts to cut costs. Authorities say the Mothers and Children's Institute may soon join the list of shuttered institutions. Workers here are fighting to save it. They took over the hospital in August. Now they say they won't leave, and they say neither will Juan David.

Even with word on Monday that authorities would earmark money to pay for wages, they believe if he is sent to another hospital, the Children's Institute would have little reason to remain open.

Melida Salazar, a nurse, has worked here for more than 20 years.

Ms. MELIDA SALAZAR (Nurse): (Through translator) The baby is very important for us. They threaten us by saying if they take him away, they'll close the hospital.

(Soundbite of baby crying)

FORERO: Juan David spends his days in an old metal cradle amid empty incubators. Doctors and nurses have brought him pajamas and stuffed animals. With no one else to care for, 16 medical personnel hover over him every day. Maritza Molina, a physical therapist, says the care he receives has helped.

Ms. MARITZA MOLINA (Physical therapist): (Through translator) This has been salvation for him. When he came, he was a very small baby, very, very low weight, premature. We don't have all the technology, but we have the know-how.

(Soundbite of machines)

FORERO: A nurse checks the oxygen in his blood, another measures him. Maritza Molina checks his vital signs.

Ms. MOLINA: (Through translator) The boy is very stable at this moment. All vital signs are within normal range.

FORERO: With antibiotics, therapy and constant vigilance, Juan David went from two pounds to nearly 11. The nurses also gave him his name. The problem is that officials say Juan David may be well enough to move to another hospital. That has Idimar Espitia(ph), a nurse for 20 years, devastated.

Ms. IDIMAR ESPITIA (Nurse): (Through translator) For me this means a lot. It's my life, everything I have. I've been able to study, I have my house, I have my daughter, everything. It means everything.

FORERO: Because of the hospital workers' devotion, Juan David has survived. But ironically, the hospital may not, even as officials pledge an emergency infusion of much-needed cash.

Juan Forero, NPR News, Bogota, Columbia.

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