Tucuru, Guatemala, near where Susana lives
When a child is born in the United States with a cleft lip their lip is almost always repaired before their first birthday. In countries such as Guatemala this is rarely the case. Almost all of our patients are from remote rural areas far from the big city or even a paved road. Finding them and persuading them to leave the security of home is difficult at best. Don Heebner, one of our volunteers and Board member has photographed over one hundred children many of whom are infants. So he was surprised when he saw Susana for the first time. Susana was holding a towel over her face and Don had to check her folder to see why she was a patient in this surgical mission, which was focused on children. When she pulled the towel away it was clear why. How was it possible that she had not been repaired in 18 years?
Susana was born the youngest of three children, and her mother was not very involved with her children. Her father was even less involved. When it looked like Susana’s mother and father would abandon her, Susana’s grandfather and grandmother stepped forward and said they would raise Susana. Susana had a loving home with her grandparents, but when she started school the taunting and bullying began. Susana would come home in tears from school every day until finally in the third grade her grandparents let her drop out of school. She was homebound until her grandparents heard of a Guatemalan charity called Partner for Surgery that matched children with surgical needs with incoming surgical teams from the United States and Canada who volunteered their skills for free, and would repair Susana for free.
When our team saw Susana there was no way we were going to let her go home without our best effort to make her look like the pretty girl she was meant to be. She was presented with a small mirror after surgery which she used to look at herself for ten minutes at a time. We asked if she wanted her towel back, and she said no, “I do not need it any more“.
Cleft lip patients are held overnight and released the next day. When Don heard Susana was ready to go home he grabbed her camera and met her as she walked out of the hospital, and stepped into the sunlight on a bright sunny afternoon and appeared as a normal 18 year old girl for the first time in her life.
Eighteen years is a long time to wait , but thanks to you and to two amazing charities Partner for Surgery, and Smiles for Guatemala, Susana no longer has to wait in her grandparents house.
Besides Susana, Partner for Surgery and our many teams of volunteers have completed 246 surgeries in the first quarter of 2019 and examined 480 patients.
You are making a difference. Rural Guatemalan families are some of the most impoverished in Central America and your help improves more than their health. Children are better able to go to school, adults can work to support their families and contribute to the local economy. The whole community is uplifted.
Thank you. We could not have achieved these results without you.
Susana and her grandfather
Susana before surgery
Susana after surgery