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Guatemala Cleft Trip: Day One

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Hola from the beautiful city of Antigua, Guatemala!

Volcano in Antigua
Yellow arch in Antigua, Guatemala

Our 2022 Guatemala cleft trip officially got underway today, and over the next week, we will be sharing stories and photos of what our wonderful supporters have made possible.

Before we do that, we want to share a little bit about the site of our surgeries. The Hospital de San Pedro was founded in 1663 by Dominican friars and now serves as a base for charity missions from around the world.

San Pedro Hospital in Guatemala

You might not know that Antigua was once the capital city of Guatemala prior to its destruction by a volcanic eruption in the 1500s. After being rebuilt, an earthquake in the 1770s destroyed this city once again. Officials then decided it was time to move the capital to Guatemala City, where it remains today.

Antigua is known for its many beautiful ruins and cobblestone streets.

Ruins in Antigua, Guatemalal

It’s also famous for the wonderful views of the Water Volcano (Agua) and Fire Volcano (Fuego).

Blue volcano in Antigua, Guatemala

And after that brief bit of history, it’s now on to the LWB cleft trip!

When we got to the hospital at 7 a.m., a long line of families was already waiting for our team’s arrival. Each family was hoping their child would qualify for a surgical spot.

Families arriving for a cleft mission in Guatemala

Many of the families made extremely long journeys from rural mountain villages. For many of the families, this trip was their very first time ever leaving their homes and coming into the “city,” so it was a very big day indeed. We knew to come prepared with lots of toys and goodies to break the ice and entertain the kids while they waited.

Cleft team offering toy to tot waiting for surgery
Mother son in Guatemala holding toy

Oh, the entertainment power of a simple toy car!

Guatemalan boy playing with toy car

Our first order of the day was setting up the operating and recovery rooms. On this mission, we needed to bring in everything required for surgery, from sutures, surgical instruments, and anesthesia meds to brushes and soap for the surgeons to scrub their hands.

After getting everything ready for the operations, it was time to evaluate the little patients. We’ll just say that some of the children were happier to see our doctors and nurses than others, but we did our very best to make the exams go as quickly as possible. Here are just a few photos from intake.

He likes us:

Mother son in red hat with cleft lip

She likes us not.

Suspicious girl with cleft palate in Guatemala

He likes us:

Boy with cleft lip holding number 21 preparing for surgery

Okay, let’s just stop with “he likes us.” A much happier thought, right?

As we met each family, we noticed that many of the children were wearing red thread bracelets on their wrists. We learned that in the Mayan culture, a red bracelet is thought to ward off anyone having evil thoughts or placing a curse on your child. You can see little Marelin below, is wearing one with her beautiful Mayan dress.

Girl in Maya dress with cleft palate

Our hearts were particularly touched by a father and his precious daughter who came to see our team today. Three-year-old Yari was born with a complex bilateral cleft lip.

Guatemalan girl with bilateral cleft lip

Yari’s parents have four children, and her mom is currently expecting her fifth baby. All of Yari’s siblings were born with disabilities. In fact, two of Yari’s older siblings were also born with cleft lip, and another has seizures and is unable to walk.

The family’s life in their rural village is extremely hard. Yari’s father works in the fields, and he told us that every day is a struggle. The entire family lives in one small room, and they all share one single bed. They have no running water, so it is very difficult for the mom to fetch water each day while pregnant.

Yari’s father is completely devoted to his family, and his love for his daughter was powerful to see. In fact, he had brought Yari once before into the city (a 9-hour bus ride from their village) in an effort to have her lip repaired. Unfortunately, the medical team who saw her that day said that her lip was just too complicated for them to repair, so he had to make the long trip back home without his daughter receiving help. This happened twice more. In total, three surgical teams refused to operate on Yari due to the complexity of her cleft lip.

Guatemalan father and daughter with bilateral cleft lip

Yari’s family was discouraged but not defeated. They decided that they would make one last journey to seek help for their precious girl. We are so thankful that Yari’s father didn’t give up and was able to bring his daughter to our team. We have incredible surgeons here with us this week, and they have accepted Yari onto the schedule for tomorrow. I know you will all be wishing her a smooth surgery and beautiful repair.

We’ll bring more news as the surgeries get underway. Eight children are on the OR schedule tomorrow. It’s wonderful to know that lots of little lives are about to be impacted…thanks to the kindness of the LWB community.

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