Casa Jackson, our Centre for Malnutrition Recuperation, is used to receiving severely malnourished babies and infants and nursing them back to health, but every once in a while we receive a case that shocks even us. That was the situation with María Cristina, who arrived at our door in desperate need of our support.
We first heard of Mariita, as we affectionately call her, near the end of 2022. A lady came to us after having visited a family member in the Antigua National Hospital. She had looked through an open door to see Mariita in her hospital bed and was immediately compelled to help her. She decided to come to us to see if we could help Mariita, having heard of our malnutrition programme in Casa Jackson. We attempted to visit Mariita in December but were denied access by the Hospital. Nevertheless, we got in touch with Mariita’s family and made them aware that we knew about their situation and were looking to help.
Mariita and her family are originally from Chicaman, in the department of Quiché to the north-west of Guatemala. Their first language is K’iche’, the most-spoken Mayan language in Guatemala. Whilst Mariita normally lives on the family farm with her mother and father, they have been renting a house in Mixco, near Guatemala City, with her sister and mother to be able to go to the various medical appointments that they have.
On the 15th of February 2023 Mariita arrived at the Dreamer Centre to meet up with our social workers Robbie and Rodolfo and to have a check-up in Casa Jackson. She weighed around 37 lbs. which is the expected weight of a 4- to 5-year-old child. She needed a wheelchair to move around, as she was unable to move her legs and had limited movement in her arms, with almost no muscles on her bones. She had four large sores on her body from having spent so much time on hospital beds without moving. In one of the sores, she had suffered so much damage that her bone was protruding out. Despite these sores, Mariita claimed she felt no pain or discomfort.
The exact reason for Mariita’s condition is not currently known. It is more than just a nutrition issue, with the family able to buy and provide food for Mariita. Mariita first began to lose weight and her motor capacities around the age of 11. It has been suggested that it could be a result of Guillen-Barré, but nothing has ever been confirmed. What is certain, however, is that Mariita was been let down by public health services in Guatemala, who have left her to suffer without ever truly helping her.
After her check-up with our paediatrician in Casa Jackson and a meeting with Robbie, Rodolfo from the Sponsorship and Scholarship Programme who referred the case to National Director Fabiola Aguilar, the decision was made to refer Mariita to Hospital Universitario Esperanza in Guatemala City for emergency tests and treatment. The next day on the 16th of February, Robbie and Rodolfo took Mariita to the Hospital, leaving in the early hours of the morning. There at the Hospital, Mariita went through various tests with different doctors and the decision was made that Mariita should stay there for a few days for further tests and to start the healing process on her sores.
Through discussions between Robbie, Rodolfo, Fabiola and Nuestros Ahijados Founder Patrick Atkinson, Nuestros Ahijados was able to provide the funds to pay the deposit for Mariita to stay at the Hospital, although a fundraising process was needed to cover the expenses as Mariita needed a lot of specialised support.
After 1 week in Hospital, Mariita was referred to Casa Jackson to continue the healing process. She is being kept separate from the other children as the bacteria in her sores could potentially be contagious and dangerous to the other children. She will remain at Casa Jackson gaining weight and curing her sores in preparation for potential surgery in the future. She will also receive physical therapy to work on gaining more strength and dexterity in her limbs. We are also looking to include Mariita in our education programme moving forward so she can continue to study. Before her condition worsened and she became unable to continue studying, Mariita reached 4th grade at school.
Whilst she is currently receiving the support she needs, Mariita is by no means out of the woods yet. A volunteer doctor, Dr Dian, who spent time with her this past week commented that Mariita has many serious problems as a result of being abandoned for so many years and that she is still very much in danger. We are looking to support Mariita from her home moving forward as a result of our discussions with Dr Dian.
Despite all the hardships that she has gone through in her life, Mariita still manages to maintain a sunny disposition. She likes to smile and joke with the staff members and spend time outside in the sun. In her first week at Casa Jackson she gained 3 lbs. and her sores are already looking better. We are hopeful that she continues to make good progress.