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It's All for a Good Cuss

OR staff takes up collection for Haitian family

BOSTON -- An unassuming, pastel-colored ceramic jar sits on a desk outside the operating rooms on Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center's west campus. A closer look reveals that this jar is a piggy bank, used for taking bad words and turning them into good deeds.

"I'm the swear patrol. I call them N.G. words for no good," said Heidee Albano, RN, who originally used a small cup to make cussing co-workers pay per profanity. "Every swear is accepted."

The OR nurse, originally from the Philippines, has been serving as the "swear patrol" since coming to the medical center in 1987. She began collecting a quarter per swear in 2007, promising staff a pizza party with the proceeds. In November 2008, she read an article in the Boston Globe about a little Haitian boy whose family had sold their sole source of income - two cows - in order to pay for his vital brain surgery. The story inspired Albano to instead dedicate the proceeds of the "swear jar" to purchasing a new cow for the family.

"We waste a lot of money going out to dinner or buying clothes just because they are on sale," Albano said. "Then you read about this father who sold his livelihood for his child. I can't fathom living my life while they have nothing."

The boy, Dumanel Luxama, was born with a rare defect called encephalocele. He had a hole in his skull which allowed his brain to bulge outward between his eyes while a cyst grew inside his brain dangerously close to suppressing his vital functions. His father, Almane Luxama, sold the family's two cows to travel to a hospital in Haiti operated by Partners in Health, a non-profit focused on providing free medical care.

The visit in March 2008 yielded good and bad news. The bad news was that the operation needed to save Dumanel's life could not be performed in Haiti. However, John Meara, MD, Chief of Plastic Surgery, Children's Hospital Boston, happened to be there the day the Luxamas arrived. Five months later, Dumanel was in Boston undergoing surgery to save his life and repair his face.

The family returned to Haiti last fall. Albano said the town they lived in had suffered intense rain storms and the crops they hoped to harvest had been ruined. Purchasing a cow for the family became even more important for Albano.

"I've worked with Heidee for years; she's quite a professional," said Don Moorman, MD, Associate Surgeon-in-Chief. "It's special when people go above and beyond for others."

To date, $400 has been collected through donations and "swear jar" proceeds. Albano is in contact with Partners in Health and learned that two Massachusetts families motivated by the same article she read had already purchased one cow for the family. Albano hopes to raise the $800 needed to replace the family's remaining bull, a male cow used for plowing.

"I don't enjoy life as much if I know people are suffering," Albano said. "Hopefully, other departments will start their own "swear jars" and donate to a charity."