We frequently hear from our donors that they are amazed at how much Partner for Surgery has been able to accomplish in Guatemala. And yes, we are very proud of the many thousands of people we have provided with medical care but we have not done it alone. In 2008, Partner for Surgery started a Guatemalan partner organization, Associación Compañero para Cirugía (ACPC), with the intent of Guatemalans eventually leading all the day to day activities. Together, we have now become the pre-eminent organization providing health and medical care in many of the Guatemalan rural communities.
An indicator of success can be seen in the significant increase of government medical personnel and community midwives in the referral of newborns with cleft anomalies to our Cleft Infant Nutrition Program. Several years ago, almost all the infants with clefts were first seen at our rural medical missions. Now, over 85% are referrals, which means the infants remain in better health and can qualify for surgery earlier than before.
We are currently looking for both medical and non-medical volunteers for our week long rural medical missions. During the week we visit four villages, numerous Mayan homes and also include a cultural day in the area. These missions provide a unique personal look into the life of rural Mayan communities which have a cultural history of almost 3,500 years. Please let us know if you have an interest in more information such as activities, dates and costs.
Below we would like to share a couple of patient stories and how with the help of proper medical care we were able to change their lives.
Three years ago, Juan looked for help from the national health system after a mass began to form on his neck and face, however he was told that nothing could be done. Living in a very hot area, he would wear a hoodie everyday in order to cover the mass, but he would still get bullied, significantly lowering his self-steem.
In June 2016, we identified him during one of our rural missions, and a surgery was scheduled with a neck specialist from Cape Breton. In the following surgical mission in February 2017, Juan's mass was removed, and so was his hoodie.
Juan simply could not believe the before and after pictures we showed him. A few weeks later, he called us and told us how much we were able to change his life. He found himself a job and a girlfriend.
All he needed for a life change was the opportunity to receive proper health care.
Sandra visited us because she felt several lumps on her breasts. Before visiting us, she was scared after she was told she could have breast cancer, and her mind was set that she would not be able to overcome this.
We encouraged her during her visit and asked her to let us help her the best way we knew. We had recently started a breast cancer program with a high focus on education and help with surgeries when needed.
Sandra's pathologies were clean and her lumps were removed during our February surgical mission. She thanked us for giving her another chance in life.
In this report I would like to tell you about our activities of the last three months and include a vignette that shows the importance of a new initiative we are developing. Our in-home program to care for children with a cleft defect has become widely known in the rural areas in which we work. Because we use local to provide infant nutritional support, link families to surgical teams, provide education on care of infants with cleft defects, the program has become integrated within the rural health system. Ten years ago, almost all of the children in our nutrition program were brought to our rural medical mission events—many in a very malnourished state. Now, over 80 percent are referred to us by midwives and local government health promoters. Over the last three months the number enrolled in the program varied from approximately 150 to over 200, depending on the number of children who recently had surgery. Because the infants health can be maintained while in the program, they typically qualify for surgery at an earlier age than previously. With shorter resident time in the program, cost per child is reduced and available funds can be used to help more children each year. Already this year over 60 children have had cleft repairs and we expect a total of about 250 for the year.
Over the last three months we have made significant progress in building a team of organizations that are committed to educate young students and the parents who already have a child with a cleft on how to prevent this birth defect. What is already known is that approximately 4/5ths of all cleft anomalies are the result of some environmental trigger when a genetic predisposition is present. In Guatemala this trigger is primarily the mycotoxins that are present in the corn which is the staple food in rural communities. We are currently working to create the education program on how to prevent clefts and also how to fund this new effort.
Fredy’s family is an example of what typically happened before we had a nutrition program for children with clefts. Fredy was born with a cleft lip and palate 12 years ago. When he was one year old his parents took him to a surgical team that repaired his lip but because no organization was monitoring his progress he did not have his palate repaired. Fredy has had little opportunity for school because his open palate made it difficult to understand his speech. Now with the palate surgery he just received and the speech therapy he is now receiving from our health promoters, he will have an improved chance of integrating into his rural society. Fredy has an 8 month old sister, Dulce, who also has a cleft lip and palate but she is in our nutrition program and she will be able to have all the care she needs to develop normally in the future.
Funding to continue the nutrition program and to add the prevention education aspect is our biggest challenge. Please consider continuing your support of the GlobalGiving project and would be grateful if you could recommend to us other organizations that may be interested in working with us.
It has been three months since our last report to you and even though things slowdown in the US and in Guatemala over the holidays, we continued our efforts to provide medical care in rural communities. We provided surgical patients to the Medical Mission for Children from Boston in January and the Cape Breton Nova Scotia team in February. In February we expanded our area of service by traveling to four communities in Northwest Guatemala with doctors and non-medical volunteers. These expansions are possible because additional health local promoters are recruited and trained in the process of preparing for the arrival of these teams and the care for patients that will be receiving surgery. These promoters also have the local responsibility for monitoring the children enrolled in our Cleft Infant Nutrition Program. Now 85 percent of the enrolled children in this in-home program are new born and called to our attention by midwives and government health providers. The result is that the children remain healthy and we have been able to reduce the time a child has to wait for surgical attention. The quicker a child receives all the needed surgical procedures, the quicker we can add children to the program. This cleft program is a wonderful example of how collaboration between an international non-profit, Guatemalan organizations and community volunteers can address and solve a very daunting health care problem.
We would like to share with you examples of the care that is provided.
Gift bags and quilts
In order to create a more friendly atmosphere, for the past 8 years Partner for Surgery has been taking gift bags to Guatemalan children, and more recently, dozens of beautiful quilts, both made lovingly by a McLean, Virginia church.
Inside the bags, children find items that are not available to them in Guatemala – coloring books, crayons, and stuffed animals. In fact, sometimes even the parents are not familiar with coloring books and we see them with crayons in hand as well!
The quilts are especially important to keep the children warm. Many come from hotter areas and are not prepared for their stay at the cooler, higher altitudes. And when they return to their villages, the quilts add a wonderful touch to their very sparsely furnished homes.
No age limits
We do our best at treating patients of all ages in Guatemala, from just a few months old, to a full and long life.
Felisa is on the other end of the spectrum, coming to us last year when she was 75 years old, with a hernia.
It wasn’t very easy to always understand this sweet woman, but we could still see the love and happiness after her surgery.
That’s the beauty in what we do. Medical care knows no borders, age, and language barriers when it comes to changing lives.
Non-medical volunteer opportunities
We are making a renewed effort to encourage non-medical volunteers to join us on a medical mission in Guatemala and also visit some of the patients in their rural homes. If you know of anyone who might have an interest in learning more, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Birth defect prevention program
Efforts are also continuing to build a program that is focused on birth defect prevention with emphasis on clefts. Universidad Rafael Landivar in Guatemala City has recently joined the effort which is being led by our sister organization, Asociacion Companero para Cirugia. We look forward to providing details on this effort in our next report to you.