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Guatemala Cleft Trip: Day Four

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Hola from the 2022 LWB Cleft Mission to Antigua, Guatemala! We’ll dive right into morning rounds so you can see some of the beautiful children you met yesterday on our Day Three blog.

Mom and her baby after surgery during a Guatemala cleft trip

First up in today’s review of our Guatemala cleft trip is little Froylan, who definitely wins “fastest bounce back ever.” Just one day after lip surgery, he is already smiling and playing with our team. Doesn’t he look so handsome?

Baby on mom's lap after cleft lip surgery

We then checked on two-month-old Lyliana. You might remember from yesterday’s blog that her mother broke down in tears when her daughter was taken back to the operating theater. This morning, Lyliana’s repair looks truly beautiful.

Guatemalan baby after cleft lip surgery

Mom is still extremely nervous about caring for the lip today, however, so she will be staying one more night in the hospital to help ease her worries.

Guatemalan mother and baby after cleft repair surgery

Today, nine wonderful children had surgeries with LWB. In the interest of time though, we want to share about one very special family that our entire team has fallen in love with.

A few days before we traveled to Guatemala, we were asked if we could add a three-month-old baby to the schedule. We were told that little Alan had been born with a wide bilateral cleft lip.

Guatemalan boy with cleft lip

What we quickly realized, however, is that many of the other family members who would be bringing Alan were also cleft-affected. Alan’s mom and aunt were both born with cleft, and between them, they had seven children who were also born with this medical need.

Family who all have cleft lip

We sat down with the family to learn more about their story, which we know will touch your heart as much as it did ours.

First, we’d like you to meet Alan’s mother Lecia, who is a 23-year-old single mom.

Guatemala mom with cleft lip

When baby Alan was first born, his father could not accept that his son had the same special need as Lecia, so he abandoned the family shortly after. Lecia told our team that she cried so much when she and Alan were left on their own that she thought she couldn’t possibly go on. But her devoted parents, who live in a remote mountain village, covered her with love. With their encouragement, she finally understood that she must stay strong to fight for her son’s future.

This tight-knit family of 10 now lives together in two tiny rooms, sleeping without beds on a plain dirt floor. They work each day in the fields, earning just 25 quetzales (approximately $3 USD) for their labor.

Lecia tried her best to breastfeed her infant son after his birth, but his bilateral cleft lip made nursing very difficult. She knew she needed formula for her baby to survive, but soon learned it costs 85 quetzales per can. Baby Alan needs three cans per week. To quickly help you with the math, Alan’s formula costs as much as this impoverished family makes each month. Despite this challenge, they are determined to work together to keep him fed and healthy.

Baby boy with cleft lip in red hat and sweater

Lecia was very nervous about making the 10-hour trip to Antigua since she had never before left her village. To give her support, Lecia traveled with her mother, her 14-year-old nephew Mayco, and her 17-year-old niece Juana. All of them had also been born with cleft lip and palate, which the people in
their village believe is caused by the moon.

Mom holding baby with cleft lip in red santa hat

Mayco and Juana had received lip surgery when they were younger, but the repairs were rudimentary. Both had significant adhesions and pulling, making their teeth visible at all times. In addition, having unrepaired palates made speech development extremely difficult, so both teens struggle to speak and be understood.

Mayco faces continual bullying in his village and managed to tell our team that he prayed we would accept him for surgery. Despite the cruel teasing, he tried to be brave at school but finally gave up due to the harassment. He now helps his family pick beans and corn in the fields.

Juana, however, was not able to endure the bullying she received when she tried to go to school, so instead, she stayed home with her mom to help with washing and other chores.

We knew we had to accept the entire family for care because cleft has impacted every aspect of their lives. When we told the family that ALL THREE children would be on our schedule, their joy was palpable.

Juana’s grandmother told us that the night before surgery, Juana could not sleep. She whispered to her grandma that she was “both nervous and excited” thinking she could finally be “a beautiful girl.”

Juana was first up on the surgery list. She waited in the pre-op area all by herself, as unfortunately, current hospital policy is that only the babies can sit with a caregiver. She stayed completely quiet, but our team kept checking on her to make sure she was doing okay.

Teenage girl with cleft lip preparing for surgery

Once it was Juana’s turn for surgery, her nervousness began to show, but she bravely walked back to the OR and then climbed up on the table.

Nurse and patient with cleft walking to the OR

Dr. Tolan knew this could be the only opportunity she could have for a full repair, so he decided to do both her lip and palate revision at the same time, which makes for a long, complex surgery. We’re absolutely thrilled to report that Juana came through the operation well.

Once she had woken up from anesthesia, we called the grandmother to come to the PACU. This tiny woman was shy and hesitant at first to come into the room but finally came to stand beside her granddaughter. When she saw Juana’s face for the first time, she couldn’t hold back the tears. It was a very emotional moment for us all.

Grandma overcome with emotion seeing granddaughter get her cleft lip repaired

Next up for surgery was 14-year-old Mayco. He was so excited about this chance at having his lip repaired that he couldn’t stop smiling from ear to ear!

Boy with cleft lip preparing for surgery

Just like Juana, the team decided to do a full palate and lip repair in one operation. Dr. Koenig, one of the anesthesiologists on the team, soon had Mayco sleeping soundly so the full operation could begin.

Anesthesiologists preparing a patient for cleft surgery

Four long hours later, Mayco was taken to recovery. He now has a newly repaired lip that will let him return to his village with confidence. We know you’ll celebrate with us that his dream of a new smile has finally come true.

Next up for surgery was sweet baby Alan. This oh-so-loved little boy had everyone laughing at his adorable pre-op expressions.

Baby boy with cleft lip making faces

Dr. Ness and Dr. Xue worked their magic on his wide bilateral lip.

Doctors performing cleft surgery during LWB's Guatemala Cleft Trip

Before we knew it, Alan was back in the PACU, snuggled in the arms of his mama with Uncle Mayco in the recovery bed right beside him!

Baby and his uncle after both had cleft repair surgery

Just look at little Alan’s beautiful repair, just moments after coming out of the OR.

Mom holding baby after cleft lip repair surgery

But that isn’t all. We had one more special surprise today for this very special family. All this week, we’ve sadly had patients cancel after testing positive for COVID or RSV. When one of the patients on tomorrow’s schedule came down with a chest infection (making surgery unsafe), our surgeons decided to ask Lecia if she, too, would like her lip repaired. When our team took her aside to ask the question, her eyes filled with disbelief and then lit up with pure excitement. Tomorrow, this young, determined mom will get a brand new smile as well.

For almost twenty years, we’ve said that LWB is in the “business of building families.” But this is certainly the very first time on a cleft trip that we’ve experienced such a family affair!

We are so truly grateful to everyone who is making this week of healing possible during our Guatemala cleft trip, including our generous supporters and our partner Compañero Para Cirugía (ACPC). The hope you are bringing to families in Guatemala has been incredible to see.

We’ll be back with more stories from the hospital tomorrow. Until then…MUCHAS GRACIAS. Thank you for changing the world for good.

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