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Guatemala Cleft Trip: Day Five

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Hola once more from the beautiful town of Antigua, Guatemala!

Arcade in Antigua

Today is the last full day of surgeries on our Guatemala Cleft Trip. For the past two days, we have been able to run three operating rooms. Before we tell you some of the stories of the children today, let’s head over to morning rounds in the historic and beautiful San Pedro Hospital to check on a few patients you met earlier this week.

Patient Updates from our Guatemala Cleft Trip

Hospital ward in Guatemala

The first child we checked on was Lyliana, whose mom was much more at ease today with her daughter’s post-op care. She told our team that she is completely in love with Lyliana’s new look, which made our hearts happy. Seriously….how precious is this lovely baby girl?

Guatemalan baby following cleft lip surgery

We also checked on the sweet family you met yesterday on our blog, almost all of whom received cleft surgery this week with our team.

Both Mayco and Juana had cleft palate repairs along with their lip surgeries, so they aren’t quite ready to share their smiles yet. Despite some discomfort, these siblings are healing well and are thrilled they can now close their mouths without their teeth showing.

Boy following cleft lip repair surgery
Teenage girl right after cleft lip repair

Next, we checked on their tiny nephew Alan, whose bilateral cleft repair was completed late yesterday afternoon. He is also recovering well but will stay in the hospital one more night since his mama Lecia is having her lip revision today!

Baby boy in green following cleft lip repair surgery

Let’s all give a huge round of applause to grandma…the only member of the family who DIDN’T receive an operation this week. She has been one very busy caregiver watching over her three grandchildren and helping her daughter. Thankfully, all of grandma’s patients were still calm and sleepy at half past 6 a.m.!

Grandma with her grandsonafter cleft lip repair

New Patients from our Guatemala Cleft Trip

Now on to some of the children we want you to meet today. First up is 11-month-old Cristel, who definitely won best hair covering of the entire week.

Baby in white head wrap

This gorgeous little girl had an incredibly long trip to come and see our team. She and her mother live far up in the Guatemala mountains, with only small dirt paths to travel on. Cristel’s mom uses a nearby river to do wash in the summer and then carries buckets of water back to their small home in order to drink and cook. Their mountain village is so remote that to reach the town of Antigua, they must first go by boat before taking two separate seven-hour bus rides. They began their journey at 3 a.m. and did not arrive at the hospital in Antigua until late in the evening.

Cristal’s mom talked to our team for a very long time about her struggles as a single mother. Cristal’s father left the family before she was even born and has never visited since, so she has to rely on the kindness of her aunt and uncle. Cristal was born prematurely, and no one in her small village had ever seen a child with cleft which made the situation especially difficult for them. The rural doctor who came to see Cristal after she was born incorrectly told her mom that cleft lip and palate were a direct result of Cristal being born early, which illustrates how much more education is needed on this special need in remote communities.

Baby in white head wrap

Cristal’s previous lip repair surgery was arranged by Compañero Para Cirugía (ACPC), the same organization we are partnering with this week, and we are so happy she was able to return this week to have her palate repaired. While we all love seeing the enormous difference a lip repair surgery makes for a child, cleft palate repairs are just as essential. If the palate remains open, a baby born with this condition will face problems with ear infections, hearing, and most critically, speech development. We are so thankful to our supporters who are making it possible for so many kids like Cristal to have their palates repaired this week during this Guatemala cleft trip.

Mom and baby in white head wrap

Another beautiful baby having surgery today was seven-month-old Brandon.

Baby boy lying down with cleft lip

Brandon’s family is Mayan and also lives far up in the mountains with no running water. We have been so moved by families like Cristal’s and Brandon’s who go such enormous distances to make sure their children receive care. To even get to the bus station, Brandon’s mom first had to travel five hours by dirt road from their small village, followed by two six-hour bus rides.

Mountains in Guatemala

When Brandon was born in their small home, it was a complete surprise to see his cleft lip, as he was the first baby in their Mayan community to have this special need. Sadly, the people in their village are afraid of the little boy, so Brandon and his mom have stayed inside the house since he was born. No one in the community will help them since Brandon was born with a lip that looked different.

However, we were so happy to hear that Brandon’s father adores his little boy. He told his wife, “It doesn’t matter what our son looks like…we will find help for him together.”

Baby boy with cleft with blanket on his head

Brandon’s mom is so excited to be on this surgery mission that she hasn’t been able to sleep. On Sunday, when our team did intake on the patients, she arrived at the hospital at 4. a.m. as she wanted to be first outside the door. She said she couldn’t believe that other patients were already lined up outside in front of her!

Mom and baby with cleft lip

Brandon was the very last case of our surgery day, and as we finalize this blog he is still back in the OR. We will share some of his after photos with you tomorrow.

Before we tell our last story of the day, however, we want to give a quick shout of thanks. We are beyond grateful for our non-medical team members who came with us to Guatemala to entertain the kids and give emotional support to the parents pre-surgery. Volunteers like Melanie, Joane, and Sofia have made such an enormous difference in the hospital this week!

Collage of cleft trip volunteers

Finally, we want to share the story of a very devoted father, Marco, and his little girl Lea.

Dad and daughter with cleft lip holding teddy bear

In the work that we do, we are continually faced with the hard realities of immense poverty. It’s difficult to fully grasp the cruel unfairness of it all and just how many children suffer its injustice. There’s a powerful saying you might have heard before: “Where you live should not determine whether you live.” That very real truth kept coming to mind as we sat and spoke with Lea’s soft-spoken father.

This gentle man lives with 10 other family members in one tiny house without access to water. He quietly told us that every day is an uphill battle. But when he learned that his wife was expecting a baby, his heart was filled with joy. He waited anxiously for the day to arrive, making a handmade wooden crib for his very first child.

It was a complete surprise when baby Lea was born with cleft lip and palate, but Marco’s extended family was very supportive emotionally. When Lea struggled to feed and became failure to thrive, her family searched for a way to keep Lea alive. They finally found one soft bottle they could squeeze and borrowed money to purchase the precious milk she needed.

When Lea was three months old, she had her first seizure. Every week, the seizing became longer and stronger. The wooden crib that Marco had so carefully built for his daughter remained empty, as he kept Lea in bed with him to protect her while her tiny body shook.

When Marco and his wife took Lea to a doctor, she was diagnosed with epilepsy and prescribed an anti-seizure medicine. But Lea’s destitute family could not afford to purchase this essential medication, so sadly she had to go without.

Girl with cleft lip holding bottle

Lea has had continual seizures for the past two years, shaking uncontrollably three to four times a day. Thankfully, one of the ACPC health promoters connected with the family and told Marco that his daughter could come see the LWB team during this week’s cleft mission.

Girl with cleft lip in red sweater

For so many families in Guatemala, life is truly day-to-day. Without work, they do not eat. When Marco learned that his daughter Lea would have a chance at surgery, he had to make a difficult decision. He and his wife had just had a new baby, and so Marco had to leave his job as a day laborer in order to bring Lea to Antigua to see our cleft team since his wife was unable to travel. While he spoke with us, you could see the worry on his face that making the journey to heal Lea meant no money would be earned for his family. But of course, his daughter’s needs came first.

Girl with cleft lip holding teddy bear

When they arrived in Antigua this week, Lea was given the epilepsy medicine her body needs, and thankfully the seizures have completely stopped. Following her exams, our doctors cleared her for surgery. Marco told us, “I can finally breathe knowing that medical care for my little girl is here.”

Following her long cleft lip operation today, Lea was taken back to the PACU to wake up from anesthesia. As we looked at her repair, the only word that came to mind was, “Wow.”

Sleeping baby after cleft lip repair

Soon it was time for her father to be reunited with Lea. He could not hold back his emotions when he saw his daughter’s new look for the first time.

Washington Irving once wrote, “There is a sacredness in tears. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues…and are the messengers of unspeakable love.”

What a perfect theme for this entire week on our very first cleft trip in Guatemala: Unspeakable love for all the precious children, because each and every one of them is so important to our world.

Dad cradling his daughter after cleft lip repair

Until tomorrow, THANK YOU for all your support and encouragement. So many stories of hope….written together with you.

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