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Standing tall and ready to face the world

By Stories

Having a baby was always her dream, but Silvia waited until she finished school to build a secure future and a home for her family. Having a first child at thirty-seven makes you a spinster in Silvia’s small town, but last December was going to be a special Christmas with the birth of her baby. Yet, Silvia’s plan took an unexpected turn. Her baby girl was born with a cleft lip and a cleft palate.

The people in her community immediately blamed Silvia. It seemed everyone had an opinion on why it was her fault. They say that she waited too long to have a child. They accused her of being negligent with her prenatal pills. They said she was bad-humored, that she stared directly into an eclipse, and worse, that Teresa was born like “that” as punishment for something Silvia did.

Silvia loves her baby, but she has been so afraid to face the community and even some family members that for seven months, she and Teresa hid at home away from the judgment and hurtful stares from others.

She did not want Teresa to grow up like that. So, having heard about the Partner for Surgery Guardian Angel Program from Dina, a local health promotor, she knew to ask for help. Dina visited Silvia and Teresa in their home. She explained that a surgical team specializing in cleft lip and palate surgery was coming to Antigua soon, and Teresa would be first in line.

Teresa received lip surgery from the Smiles for Guatemala Team this July and looks excellent two weeks later.

With Dina’s home wellness visits and care, Teresa should be ready to have her palate surgery within a year. For now, three weeks since surgery, Teresa is healing beautifully, and Silvia is observably taller as she leaves the house to go to the local store, Teresa in tow.

They are both well on their way to freedom from shame and guilt.

Renewed Hope for Jacinto and PFS

By News, Stories

It is easy to picture Mrs. Elma Brito’s morning on any day. She is as careful and quiet as possible as she rises. She wants her little boy, Jacinto, to sleep a little longer while she prepares breakfast for him and his two sisters.

This is the type of morning most mothers could find familiar. Except, Elma lives in La Pista, a rural village in Quiché, Guatemala. She wants her boy to sleep a little longer because he cannot rest the night peacefully. He has a small lump on his face that grows and becomes more painful daily. Elma’s husband tends a small batch of crops near their home, and the family of five’s income is less than US$5.50 per day.

In their quest to help Jacinto, a local medical clinic in the nearest town requested Q8,000 (close to $1,000) to perform a surgery to remove the lump that would stop his pain. This sum seems impossible, as it might mean choosing between surgery for Jacinto or feeding the family. They were forced to wait until Miguel, a Partner for Surgery (PFS) Health Promotor, provided all the details that brought them to the PFS rural medical mission on May 17th.


Elma could barely hold her tears back while Dr. Michelle examined her boy and told her Jacinto was  one of the 57 patients our medical volunteers were able to match for surgery that day.

He is scheduled for surgery with one of our medical teams this coming October.

There is joy in every rural mission when we meet people like Jacinto and his mother. However, this time, our volunteers, staff, and health promoters were incredibly excited, knowing that it had been 805 days since the last time we were in Quiché due to the pandemic. A renewed hope is knowing we could return and meet all the new friends waiting for us in Quiché.

Resuming life-changing missions: A PFS Volunteer Testimonial- David W Low, MD

By Stories


As I write, it has been 806 days since we left Guatemala on our last cleft mission with Partner for

Surgery. The pandemic put a frustrating stop to our biannual missions, and we have missed our friends and patients dearly. Monetary donations and shipments of anesthesia and surgical supplies hopefully provided some measure of support while we waited for the opportunity to resume our missions safely. As the backlog of patients accumulated, our Guatemalan colleagues continued to provide nutritional support and a limited number of surgical procedures.

We are therefore anxious and thrilled to plan our return to Guatemala in July. With safety the primary concern for families and staff, this mission will take place in Antigua instead of Guatemala City, with fewer team members and a slightly lighter surgical schedule. We will concentrate on new patients with unrepaired cleft lips and palates and provide a well-trained surgical, anesthesia, pediatric, and nursing staff.

If all goes well, we hope to return to Guatemala City in the fall with reinforcements that include otolaryngology, orthodontia, speech pathology, and a more significant number of non-medical support staff and expand our surgical procedures to have hand, burn, ear, and secondary cleft surgery.

I have personally studied DuoLingo Spanish for 806 consecutive days, starting in the Guatemala airport in March 2020 while enjoying Guatemalan coffee in an “I love Guatemala” mug. I cannot wait to resume our life-changing mission to help the children of Guatemala.

David W Low, MD

Medical Director, Smiles for Guatemala

Introducing Partner for Surgery’s New Resource Development Director

By Stories

My name is Mariajose Ortiz, but my friends call me MJ. I am Partner for Surgery’s (PFS) new Resource Development Director. While I write this, I am traveling back from my first rural medical mission in Quiché, Guatemala. Professionally, I have worked on different types of projects in medical care. Yet, during my first week on the ground with the PFS team, what I see is different in a very critical way.

Most projects operate out of a central location, where patients go seeking assistance. In contrast, PFS goes to the most forgotten patients, to the hardest and farthest places where few are willing to go to provide the dignity of quality healthcare. For PFS, knowing these people exist is the guiding star that drives every activity for its programs.

The commitment is the same from when we first meet our patients until we walk them home after recovery. Administrative staff, health promotors, board of directors, volunteers, and our faithful donors work in extraordinary harmony to serve each patient as an old friend.

I went to school at a small university in the United States and worked and lived there for twelve years. But my dream was always to serve in Guatemala, my home. I am honored and committed to Partner for Surgery’s mission because I see a lasting impact on my people. I have looked patients in the eyes and know with all my heart that what we offer them is real hope.

So, to end this note, I want to say how happy I am to be here. My hope and focus are to ensure that your support positively impacts our patients, and I believe this is the best place to start!

All the best,


Resource Development Director

Kindness for Karla: A Partner for Surgery Mobile Medical Mission Story

By Stories
Karla's CPC Evaluation PhotoKarla is a Honduran woman in her mid-40s, living in Tactic, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. She attended a Partner for Surgery Mobile Medical Mission in June 2019 for a mass on her face and neck and was diagnosed with a Giant Right Parotid Mass. It’s been a long road for Karla and her journey continues even to this day, but Partner for Surgery Guatemala (Compañero para Cirugía, or CPC) has been with her the whole way. Read on to learn more about Karla’s patient story.
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Partner for Surgery Health Promoter Rewarded for Kindness Amid Street Protest Traffic Block

By Stories
Guatemalan Street Protest

August 2021 Guatemalan street protest

Partner for Surgery Health Promoter Marta de la Cruz was rewarded for her kindness during a recent street protest that stopped traffic, threatening to prevent her team from getting their patients to medical care. 

Street protests are a common occurrence in Guatemala and represent the only way that some citizens have of making their voices heard. Most of these protests are peaceful, but not always.

One example of a protest that was not peaceful happened in October 2021. The anti-vaccine contingent came to rural Guatemala and more than 500 angry residents blocked traffic from proceeding. Among the vehicles stuck in the protest block was a van carrying health workers and nurses on their way to deliver Covid vaccine doses in Alta Verapaz.

The protesters destroyed the vaccines and held the health workers hostage for seven hours until police and local officials negotiated their release. Fortunately, that is a more extreme example than what our Health Promoters encountered last August. Read More

Partner for Surgery Begins a Return to Normalcy in Guatemala

By Stories
Partner for Surgery health promoters register patients

Partner for Surgery Health Promoters register rural medical mission patients

Now that vaccines are more readily available and the world begins to emerge from the Covid pandemic, Partner for Surgery is seeing a return to normalcy, as well. In January and February 2022, we were able to hold two consecutive rural medical missions to identify patients for upcoming surgical missions as surgical teams are able to return to Guatemala this year. 

Prior to January 2022, Partner for Surgery’s last rural medical mission was on February 24, 2020, just before everything stopped due to the Covid pandemic. We were finally able to welcome volunteers from the U.S. and Canada from January 22-29, 2022, for our first rural mission in 23 months.

Almost immediately after it ended, we held our second rural mission (February 2-9). These rural triage missions reflect our confidence that the 11 confirmed surgical teams (as well as those planning to confirm) will be in need of full weeks of patients. The Covid concern is still there, but lessened, and we, our patients and volunteers, the hospitals, and the Guatemalan Health Ministry have all learned to adapt. We are hopeful about the future! Read More

Infant Nutrition for Cesar: A Partner for Surgery Patient Story

By Stories
Cesar was born on June 27, 2021, with a unilateral cleft lip and cleft palate. Despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Partner for Surgery is there to help this rural Guatemalan family and ensure that their son was able to get the nutrition he needs as he awaits his cleft repair surgery.

When an infant is born with a cleft lip or palate, it’s important to repair the cleft as soon as possible so that the child can get proper nutrition. This is often difficult in places like rural Guatemala. Today we’re sharing Cesar’s story. Cesar’s parents, Margarita and Genaro, are a young couple, and despite their difficult financial situation, they were thrilled to learn that they were expecting their first child. Margarita gave birth to Cesar in June 2021 in Aldea Paapa, San Juan Chamelco, Alta Verapez.

The family’s joy soon turned to concern for their child.

“We were told our boy was born with a condition that required special care and if he was not able to breastfeed, he would need infant formula, which was a little expensive. I panicked,” Genaro said. “My wife and I were already struggling with food insecurity, so how was I going to buy powder milk for my son? For two months, I felt anxious, sad, and confused. I was having such a hard time trying to feed my family and to buy milk for Cesar. Margarita and I were having only one meal a day.” Read More

Partner for Surgery Is Preparing For the Future

By Stories

Around the world, the Covid pandemic has disrupted patients’ lives and medical team schedules. For Guatemala, it is no exception. Since early 2020, our Cleft Infant Nutrition Program has grown from 150 to now more than 250 children. This is even after the local Guatemalan doctors and their teams, which we have organized, performed 168 surgeries. Until the international surgical teams return, we need to prepare for all the children being born with clefts.

A Happy Day for a Lucky Little Girl

Rosa Estefany Cuz Choc was one of the lucky children who underwent surgery to correct a cleft in August. Covid cases in rural Guatemala are on the rise. Every patient is tested for Covid upon arrival and a positive test result means that there will be no surgery. When Rosa’s mother Louisa got a last-minute phone call, she was ecstatic! She had been waiting for over a year for this call. Because of a pregnancy complication, Rosa had been born in the local hospital, which then notified our health promoter, Marta de la Cruz, and Rosa immediately became part of our Cleft Infant Nutrition Program.

After a three-hour ride in the back of a truck, followed by nine more hours in two different hailed cars, Louisa and Rosa arrived in Antigua where they were met by our staff.

After the surgery, Louisa said, “I did all that you asked me to do, and you did exactly what you promised.”