Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Guatemala Cleft Trip: Day Two

Posted on

Hola, everyone! Welcome to day two of our 2022 LWB Guatemala Cleft Trip. We left for the hospital at 6 a.m. this morning, and the normally bustling streets of Antigua were quiet and peaceful as we walked.

Antigua street in the morning

The first day of surgeries is always a very special one, as team members get to know each other better, and as the very first children head back to the OR. Yesterday, we introduced you to three-year-old Yari, a tiny little girl whose siblings were all born with special needs as well.

Guatemalan girl with bilaterla cleft lip held in arms

Yari’s father had made the long, nine-hour journey to Antigua three separate times in the past, only to be told each time that nothing could be done to help his little girl. He had not given up, however, and so once again he came with the hope that Yari could finally receive the lip repair she needed to be accepted by the world.

Guatemalan girl with bilateral cleft lip

Yari is severely undernourished, weighing just over 12 pounds at three years of age. Despite being so thin and unable to walk, Yari is extremely curious and was delighted by the toys from our team. Our pre-op nurse Kirstin, who came all the way from Wales, soon made a dear friend, even sealing the deal with a handshake.

Guatemalan girl with cleft lip meeting nurse

Yari’s mom is expecting her fifth child soon, and we were really touched watching Yari take her new beanie baby and wrap it tendering in the bib we had given her. She would then cradle her “baby” and rock it gently.

Guatemalan girl with bilateral cleft lip holding a toy baby

Despite her low weight, the anesthesiologists had given Yari preliminary approval yesterday. Unfortunately, our medical team was unable to get a blood pressure reading on her despite trying over 10 times on both her arms and legs. They tried yet again with other equipment but still had no luck. The doctors then realized that her initial exam with local doctors, earlier in the week, also had no blood pressure recorded. They began to consider the possibility that Yari would not be able to go through to the OR.

Knowing that this could be her very last chance at a lip repair, one of the anesthesiologists decided to take Yari into the OR to try and get a blood pressure reading there. I’m sure you could have heard our united cheers when he found a completely normal blood pressure two separate times. Within minutes, Yari was being prepped for anesthesia, and then her very complex surgery, performed by Dr. Chris Tolan and Dr. Sam DeVictor began.

Two doctors performing cleft surgery

We are all so thankful that Yari’s operation went well. She was understandably upset when she woke up in the PACU surrounded by people she didn’t know, but our wonderful nursing team helped soothe her fears.

Nurse comforts girl after cleft repair surgery in Guatemala

Soon after, her devoted dad was back by her side, staring in awe at his daughter’s repair. We are overjoyed that Yari will finally be able to return to her village with a brand-new smile. We will share a post-op photo once she is feeling a bit better.

Another of our patients today was four-month-old Mateo, who made the longest journey of all to come and see our team.

Little boy with cleft lip standing up in Guatemala

Mateo and his parents live in the neighboring country of Belize. He is their first child, and since they did not have an ultrasound, his parents were completely shocked when little Mateo entered the world with cleft lip. It was also especially hard for them because Mateo developed an immediate lung infection and had to be placed into an incubator to survive.

The family explained to us that cleft care is not available in the region of Belize where they live, so a family friend began searching the internet for a way to get the baby the help he needed. How wonderful they soon discovered that free cleft operations could be provided by LWB and Partner for Surgery this week!

Guatemalan boy with cleft lip

It was a very long journey for them to reach Guatemala. First, they had to take an hour-long boat ride to get to where they could catch a bus. After that, they still had a 13-hour bus ride to reach the site of the mission. They told our team they are nervous about the surgery but so happy and excited that their little boy will soon have a beautiful repair.

Parents with their son born with cleft lip

Mateo was the last case of the day and had only just come out of surgery when we were writing this blog. His mama took one look at him and was overcome with relief.

Mom cries seeing her son after his cleft repair surgery

She began to cry and was still overcome an hour later. Her son’s repair looks amazing, and we will share more photos soon. 

Another precious baby we saw today was three-month-old Valentina. She is the fifth child of the family (with four older brothers!), and her father brought her to Antigua on an eight-hour bus ride.

Guatemalan baby with cleft lip smiling

Valentina was delivered at home, and her father told us that the family had never seen or heard about cleft lip before. They were understandably confused and even frightened when they saw Valentina’s face for the first time. Sadly, extended family (who also had never seen cleft) felt the baby must have been cursed. Some felt adamant that the child should not be allowed to remain within the family circle.

Thankfully, Valentina’s grandfather was a pastor who loved the little baby unconditionally from the moment he saw her. He and Valentina’s dad told the rest of the family that Valentina was going to be a treasured member of the family. Continued pressure from extended family members, however, caused Valentina’s mother to struggle with bonding. In order to best support his wife, Valentina’s father decided to stop working and sold his flock so he could devote himself to caring for his wife and daughter full-time.

Father feeds cleft-affected daughter with syringe

The love he has for his little girl was on full display in the hospital today. He paced and walked and gently rocked Valentina, explaining that his wife now adores their daughter and is so happy about surgery being done by LWB this week.

Father holds daughter with cleft lip in Guatemala

The stigma surrounding cleft is sadly prevalent in many of the countries where we work around the world. We frequently hear that children are considered “cursed,” so we do our very best to educate families on the actual research behind the “why” of cleft lip. Our team members spoke with Valentina’s father today to make sure he knew that nothing he or his wife had done had led to his baby being born with this particular medical need.

Guatemalan girl with cleft lip holds a red stuffed animal

Dr. John Ness, who has been on many LWB cleft trips in the past, did Valentina’s repair. Her very protective father had been very reluctant to let anyone else hold his daughter, but he agreed that Dr. Ness could hold her for a (very quick) photo!

Doctor holding baby before cleft surgery

We know you will agree that Valentina looks absolutely beautiful following her operation.

Guatemalan girl following cleft lip repair surgery

Valentina had a very special nurse with her today after her surgery. Laurie Sweeney and her husband adopted a child who had been in LWB’s foster care program in China. A few years later, she volunteered on an LWB cleft trip as an official “baby hugger” since she didn’t have a medical background. Laurie will tell you that the cleft mission changed everything for her, as it was on that trip, in her 40s, that she heard the call that she was supposed to go back to college and get her RN degree. What a joy to now have her back on our team as one of the PACU nurses, and what a wonderful example that it’s never too late to reach for a new dream!

Nurse holds baby following cleft lip repair surgery

After Valentina woke up from anesthesia, it was time for her dad to see his daughter’s new face for the very first time. We could see the anticipation in his eyes as he carefully put on the surgical gown, wondering if he would recognize his little girl. Watching him sit down on the hospital bed to cradle his tiny daughter, telling our team, “She’s so very beautiful” was such a beautiful moment. Every time we walked past, we noticed that he still couldn’t take his eyes off of her.

Guatemalan father seeing his daughter for the first time after her cleft repair surgery

Bringing new hope to families who have been unable to get their children the medical care they so fully deserve is what this week is all about.

We are beyond grateful for all the good wishes being sent our way. None of these stories would be possible without the wonderful kindness of our supporters, and for that we send our deepest thanks! We can’t wait to bring you more news from the hospital tomorrow.

Back to Blog

Sign up to get the latest from LWB

Get heartwarming news and uplifting stories that will put a smile on your face and fill your heart with hope.

"*" indicates required fields