In this report I would like to focus on how Partner for Surgery, a U.S. based charity, provides surgical care to rural Guatemalan communities. It can be summed up in one sentence----we use health promoters who live in the communities. The day to day efforts of these health promoters are managed by our Guatemalan partner organization, Asociacion Companero para Cirugia. These health promoters prepare for our teams of volunteer doctors and nurses from North America and Guatemala who do patient evaluations at locations close to where the patients live. Spending one day in each of four villages during a week this past June, 275 candidates for surgery were identified. These individuals have now been put into our system to be scheduled and escorted to surgical sites. I would like to share with you three vignettes from this week:
Many people, such as 6 year old Manuel and his mother, knew of us through neighbors, friends or family members. We repaired Manuel’s cleft lip several years ago and now he came to have his cleft palate repaired. Without the closure of his palate, his speech would be very difficult to understand and he would remain at risk for respiratory infections. Since antibiotics are not readily available or affordable in rural communities, without surgery Manuel could develop a life threatening condition. Standing next to Ariel Marroquin, the Director of Operations, the mother’s smile reflects her comment spoken in the local K’iche language: “I am very confident Manuel will have a bright future after his surgery”.
Most of our patients have surgical needs common throughout the world. However, in rural Guatemala problems are seen that should have been addressed when the problem was first noticed but by waiting, the problem has become a major issue. This is the case of a young man named Juan who was evaluated by the Canadian volunteer Dr Karen McIntyre. Removal of Juan’s facial growth now will require several surgical specialties whereas if it had been done earlier the procedure would have been far less complicated.
At the end of the week I was approached by a woman who immediately remembered me from 13 years ago. As soon as she showed me her feet, I remembered her, Alicia. She had come to us barely able to walk because of two club feet. As a teenager, she had few prospects for a life outside the family home - but now she is married with two children and her smile reflects how that surgical repair 13 years ago changed her life. For me, that was the highlight of the week and once again reminded me of the importance of the work of Partner for Surgery.
All of the patients from this week of evaluation will be scheduled for surgery. We accomplish our mission with local Guatemalans, volunteer medical professionals and the support of donors such as you. We ask that you please continue to help us so we can continue to help others like Manuel, Juan and Alicia. The work goes on – to date, our organization has given the opportunity for surgery to over 11,000 rural, impoverished Guatemalans and the need is there to provide life changing help to many more.
I would like to share with you the story of Yefri, a child in our Cleft Infant Nutrition Program. He was born February 19, 2013 in a rural community in Baja Verapaz, Guatemala with a severe cleft lip and open palate. Yefri had great difficulty nursing, became extremely undernourished, and, in all likelihood would not have survived without intervention. Thankfully, when Yefri was a month old, his family heard about a Partner for Surgery medical mission working nearby and brought him in for evaluation. And so began the 34 month effort for Yefri to become a normal, healthy child. He was placed in our Infant Nutrition program and his family trained in cleft infant care. His progress was monitored, surgeries scheduled, and his family instructed in the speech therapy so necessary to blend in with the other children in his community.
Yefri had his first surgery at 5 months but his lip opened again shortly after returning home. At 15 months, his palate was repaired but he began to recognize that he was different from other children and pulled at the flap forming part of his lip. At 26 months, he was pointing to other normal children and definitely ready for the surgery to correct his upper jaw and lip. Yefri’s mother was excited and anxious for the surgery because she knew her son desperately needed it and also would get wonderful care. As you can see from the photo just before his final surgery, Yefri needed extensive corrective procedures. After three hours of surgery, his surgeon, Dr. Virnelli of the Free to Smile team, said “Definitely one of the most challenging cases I’ve done in my life – and also the most satisfying.”
Yefri’s experience is unusual only in that he needed three surgical procedures instead of two and that his cleft lip and palate were more extensive than some of our other small patients. Partner for Surgery and the volunteer medical teams are grateful for the financial support from GlobalGiving which allowed us to prepare Yefri for a normal, productive life. Since our last report, 36 additional children have received cleft surgery and 142 are in our nutrition program getting healthy enough for the operations that will transform their lives. I hope from the bottom of my heart that you will continue to support our efforts.
We in Partner for Surgery would like to share with you the experiences of seven year old Kimberly, who had almost lost hope of getting desperately needed surgery. Five years ago Kimberly’s family noticed a significant mass in her groin and took her to the local health center where they were told nothing could be done. Since the family lives near the border with Mexico, in desperation they took Kimberly to a private Mexican hospital where they learned that surgery was possible but at prohibitive cost. The family survives only by selling potatoes and a few pigs.
Two months ago Kimberly’s parents heard that a Partner for Surgery medical mission would soon be in their village. With renewed hope, they got in line to see the team where one of our dedicated volunteer doctors, Dr. Brigid Glackin from the University of Illinois, evaluated Kimberly. She was recommended for surgery and put on the schedule for our March surgical team. We escorted Kimberly and one of her parents to the Guatemala City hospital, Fundacion Pediatrica, where Dr. Ed Doolin had again brought his team from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Kimberly’s surgery was successful and the next day I visited her with other Partner for Surgery staff. She had a beautiful smile and looked like she had just won the lottery. I asked “Why the big smile?” and she answered - “I am smiling because today I feel like new; I feel I can continue to have fun and be a kid. I will be able to play, run and walk with my two brothers. I missed that.”
We often forget to enjoy life and, at her young age, Kimberly reminded us to do so. Partner for Surgery will continue to work hard to help more children to enjoy life and being kids.
Kimberly’s story is one of hundreds that can be told because donors like you have helped fund our GlobalGiving Project. Please continue supporting this project so that Partner for Surgery can continue serving those in Guatemala who have no other options but the care we make possible.
Since our last report 172 patients have surgery and 538 individuals have been evaluated in rural communities by Partner for Surgery. If you would like to volunteer for a rural medical mission, please check our website for details. Medical and non-medical volunteers are needed.