Buenos días from the beautiful town of Antigua, Guatemala. Our team has fallen in love with the warm hospitality of everyone here, so definitely add it to your travel bucket list! Our cleft team has noticed that there is something extra wonderful about walking to the hospital while looking at the magnificent Agua Volcano.
The third morning of our Guatemala cleft trip began with early rounds, checking on patients and deciding who could be discharged. The organization we are partnering with this week, Compañero Para Cirugía (ACPC), has a wonderful system in place. While families only stay a day or two in the hospital post-surgery, they are then monitored in a nearby shelter for a week. Since most of the families are from remote villages, this allows the children to heal for a few more days before making their long journeys back home.
Yari was already wide awake during rounds at 6 a.m., understandably a bit wary of the team who put her through surgery just the day before. Just look at her beautiful bilateral lip repair!
Yari’s father told us that she had done very well during the night. His care and concern for his little girl have touched all of our hearts. There is never a time that he isn’t making sure she is comfortable and reassured. Yari was allowed to begin eating again today, and her dad was so gentle as he carefully fed her by syringe.
Soon it was time for Yari and her father to leave the hospital for the shelter. First, however, he went out into the courtyard where the other families waiting for surgery were gathered. He proudly showed off his daughter’s repair, reassuring the nervous parents, “It will all be okay.” No more words are needed by us because their story of hope now shines through his eyes.
The doctors also rounded on little Mateo, the baby from Belize we featured on yesterday’s blog. His mother is overjoyed with his meticulous repair and has already asked when our team will be back to operate on his palate!
Because of COVID precautions, the hospital is only allowing one parent per child to stay on the ward per child, so Mateo’s daddy has not yet seen his little boy. When we asked his mom if she had sent her husband any photos by phone, she shook her head and laughed. “No, because I want it to be a huge surprise when he first sees his handsome son.”
It was also time for our team to say goodbye to precious Valentina.
Valentina’s father had worn her almost the entire night, and he is so excited to take his daughter back to an anxiously waiting mom!
We wish we could share every wonderful story with you from the trip, but since we know how busy everyone is, we will share just a few patients from our surgery schedule today.
First, we’d like you to meet 5-month-old Froylan. His Mayan father is often gone for months at a time working the fields, so Froylan and his mom made the long journey to Antigua on their own.
They first took a two-hour car ride to the nearest bus station, followed by 11 more hours on a Guatemala “chicken bus.” These brightly colored buses are the most common form of transportation in Guatemala, connecting towns throughout the country. They are actually retired school buses from the US, brought across the border to undergo unique and colorful makeovers. Chicken buses are not known for getting to destinations on schedule, however. They often only depart from villages when they’re full, so you can imagine how challenging this bus trip must have been for Baby Froylan and his mom.
Like Froylan’s mom, all of the families we have met this week are determined to help their children have a better life, so we are beyond grateful to everyone who has donated to make these surgeries possible.
Similar to other parents, Froylan’s mom explained that no one in her rural village had ever seen a child born with cleft before. This caused the villagers to be scared of the baby and avoid the family. This quiet mom became even more worried when Froylan was unable to feed by breast. Thankfully, an ACPC health promotor soon came to the home, bringing formula and cleft bottles purchased from funds raised by our LWB community!
This nutritional support definitely made a difference, as Froylan arrived at the hospital looking wonderfully strong and healthy.
Dr. Tolan did such a beautiful repair for little Froylan. We wish you could have seen the look on his mom’s face when her baby boy was handed back to her after surgery. She couldn’t stop stroking his face as she looked at him with wonder and love.
Mayan babies are often carried in thin blankets, completely enveloping them like a cocoon. That is how we first met beautiful Lyliana and her mom.
Two-month-old Lyliana is the first child of a Mayan family who lives far up in the mountains. It took her family an entire day to reach the nearest town, including two hours of walking on rural dirt roads and then a long eight-hour journey on a chicken bus.
Lyliana is the first child in her family, born at home in their small village. When her parents first saw their baby’s face, they cried a lot, wondering why their precious daughter had been born with a condition that would make her life so difficult. Thankfully, they soon connected with a rural health advisor who let them know that help was possible through surgery.
When the health promoter explained that the baby would need to weigh 10 pounds before surgery could be done, Lyliana’s mother made sure her daughter would qualify. This two-month-old baby girl came to our team weighing in at a whopping 17 pounds! Because Lyliana’s mother was never taught to read or write, she gave her consent for surgery by carefully pressing her thumbprint onto paper.
Many people might think that everyone in Guatemala speaks Spanish, and we actually have many bilingual members on our team. In the mountain communities, however, Mayan is the language spoken, and there are over 20 different dialects used. This means that for many of our conversations with parents, we speak in English, which is translated to Spanish, and then into Mayan…and the process continues the opposite way!
One thing that never needs translating across cultures, however, is raw human emotion. And on every surgery mission, there are so many feelings being shown.
There is great joy, as families hear that their child will get a place on our schedule.
There is heartrending sorrow when a family has to be told their child can’t safely receive an operation this week because of other health issues.
And then there is deep worry and fear for the parents, as their precious children are handed off to strangers to be taken back to the OR.
For many, it’s impossible to hold back the tears, and all we can do is provide a shoulder to lean on. Such was the case today for Lyliana’s mother, who began crying when she learned her daughter’s turn for surgery had come. It was the first time she had ever been separated from her little girl.
We promise to bring pictures of sweet Lyliana tomorrow, but until then we send our sincere thanks to everyone making our Guatemala cleft trip possible.
Thank you for believing with us that Cada Niño Cuenta. Because regardless of the language spoken, EVERY CHILD COUNTS.
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