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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.”

Meet Mayra Chen, Health Promoter

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Meet Mayra Chen. Mayra lives in the Mayan village of San Juan Chamelco in the mountains of Alta Vera Paz. She started with us as a health promoter when she was 17 in 2005 and now manages the Nutrition Program in her department and personally is responsible for 26 of the children. She is typical of those who visit the children each month, provide health care when they are sick and is their escort and translator when time for surgery. Without committed people like Mayra, our in-home nutrition program would not exist and thousands of children would never have had their clefts repaired.

Photo: Stephanie Jolluck

New Online Database for Cleft Infant Nutrition Program Children

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We now have an online database of all children in the Cleft Infant Nutrition Program! Our health promoters are able to take photos and do the children’s monthly health report on cellphones and upload this information to the database when cell coverage is strong or wi-fi available. This new capability allows us to begin a program where sponsors automatically get monthly updates with photos and information on the child’s progress direct from the health promoter. If you would like to sponsor a child, please contact us for more details.  This is an opportunity to follow a child’s development, see where the child lives, and help expand the Cleft Infant Nutrition Program to include even more children.

Photo: Stephanie Jolluck

Covid Didn’t Stop Us!

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First, there is good news about Kevin (pictured above), a child featured in a previous newsletter. He was scheduled for surgery with the March 2020 Smiles for Guatemala team – the last team allowed before COVID locked down the country. However, in addition to Kevin’s mother losing her sight, the father without work transportation and two hurricanes flooding their village, Kevin became sick and missed his surgery date. Throughout all of this misery our health promoter, Zoila, traveled six hours to get to Kevin’s village with formula and basic food for the family. And, in February four Guatemalan plastic surgeons agreed to volunteer a few days each month and in March Kevin got his lip repaired.

These Guatemalan teams have now completed 68 cleft lip and 33 cleft palate surgeries and in July plan to provide additional 45 children with cleft repairs. Every child and the accompanying parent were COVID tested prior to surgery and fortunately all results were negative. And we also know from our post-operative follow up in patient homes, none contracted COVID during their trip to the hospital. As appreciative as we are for these volunteer surgeons, our cost is more than three times what it is typical for an international team.

However, change is on the way and international teams are beginning to return! Medical Mission for Children will complete the reconstruction of 23 incompletely formed ears by early July and our first general and gynecology surgical team will begin mid-August. More good news is that we are expecting a Hernia surgery team to arrive in September, the George Washington Hospital team in November and a December team from Los Angeles with an emphasis on head and neck procedures.

Good News to Share From Guatemala!

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Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic over a year ago, volunteer teams have been unable to travel to Guatemala. In the interim, over 100 new patients were added to the Cleft Infant Nutrition program, which was already bursting at the seams. A drastically reduced staff needed support and hundreds of other waiting patients had to have contact maintained. Things looked pretty bleak. We wondered how Partner for Surgery would survive. Read More