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. 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.
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.
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.
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
In addition to struggles resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, Guatemala suffered the effects of two back-to-back hurricanes in late 2020. COVID took so much from rural Guatemalans this year, and Hurricanes Eta and Iota took what was left. Crops and livelihoods were destroyed. Homes were lost. Below is a collection of photos from our In-Country Coordinator, Liset Olivet.
2020 was certainly an unprecedented year. In the first 10 weeks of the year, we were able to perform 218 surgeries and identify 488 rural patients for surgery. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, no teams have been able to go to Guatemala since the last one left in mid-March. After that point, the remaining 18 surgical teams scheduled for 2020 were rescheduled for 2021 and our focus shifted to sustaining the growing Cleft Infant Nutrition Program. The CINP currently serves 219 families and includes education on and prevention of COVID-19. Additionally, we are also supporting 100 families with basic food needs following Hurricane Eta, as mentioned in the previous story on Yesica Choc’s family. ❖
Like so many of you, this holiday season we are grateful for the many blessings we have received, and we look forward to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021.
For many in rural Guatemala, however, this year has been even more devastating than the impacts caused by the coronavirus alone. This year’s challenges have been compounded by the catastrophic rains, floods and landslides from Hurricanes Eta and Iota, resulting in lost crops and lives, as well as 391,850 damaged homes. More than 300,000 people are currently living in temporary shelters. Starvation has become a reality for many in the rural communities we serve. 40% of the 218 families with children in our Cleft Infant Nutrition Program are now in dire need of food. Therefore, in addition to providing life-saving baby formula and health monitoring, we have stepped in to provide 100 families with basic food for survival.
We have exciting news to share with our donors, volunteers, and friends! A major donor has generously pledged $33,000, and the Partner for Surgery Board has committed $42,000 to kick off the end of year campaign with $75,000 in funds to be matched. Partner for Surgery needs strong donor support to continue the Infant Nutrition Program, retain critically needed staff, and provide public health education surrounding COVID-19 to our families. Your generous donation can have double the impact this year! The matching campaign ends on December 25th, 2020. We hope you will help us meet the match and are including a remittance envelope for your convenience. Thanks for your support!
Ariel Marroquin has been Partner for Surgery’s Director of Rural Operations for eight years. Here he relates the story of once again being able to visit the rural communities we serve:
A few days ago I went out again to the rural areas, something I have done a million times but had to stop for six months due to the Covid curfew and transportation restrictions. Finally – it felt great! I was so excited to see our amazing health promoters Zoila, Carolina, Mayra and Marta – what a reunion!
After hours of driving and walking along narrow, steep paths, we made it to the homes of three of the babies in our Cleft Infant Nutrition program. With so many unanswered needs including no food and no work, they still had hope and welcomed us with open arms.
In one of those houses, I met Hilda. She was born in the small village of Rio Colorado in the town of Purulha, Baja Verapaz with a cleft lip and palate in April and so underweight that she was admitted to the nutritional center for a couple of months before being sent home. Mirna, Hilda’s mother, said that after Hilda was born, she felt very sad and discouraged because her husband was upset and blamed her for her baby’s cleft lip and palate. Fortunately, our health promoter, Marta de La Cruz, was able to tell the family about our program and showed them pictures of other children that she had helped. Marta knows the parents of these cleft children often think it is the result of something they have done in the past or a curse by a neighbor. As she said – “it is cultural and we cannot fight culture, but we can educate the families.”
Because Marta lives in the rural areas, she was able to get daily waivers to travel to our children in the nutrition program, monitor their progress, and deliver supplies. Today Hilda is in good health and at our August visit, weighed 6 lbs. 12 ounces! In a normal year, she would have her first surgery this fall but the international airport is still closed and it will be, at best, early 2021 before the volunteer surgical teams can return.
Hilda and her parents live in a house whose walls are lined with black plastic to keep out the wind and rain. They rely on corn and beans that the father, Francisco, is able to raise nearby. He is a farmer who normally would find work but since March the lack of transportation has made that impossible. During our visit, Francisco told me “the disease has taken away the little we had, now no work, no food and no help from the government. Marta’s visits to make sure Hilda is healthy and to provide us with some groceries are the help God sends to us. Bantiox, bantiox, bantiox (thank you in the Mayan language Qqeqchi)”.
Hilda is one of over 200 now in the nutrition program who are waiting for the teams to return and in the meantime need to stay in the program to assure they remain healthy. When Hilda is one year old there may be over 250 children waiting. Together with your help and the return of the surgical teams, we will be ready to meet the challenge.
Send a check to our PO box or use one of the links below to help fund Partner for Surgery.
When you shop on Amazon through Amazon Smile, a % of your purchase will be donated to Partner for Surgery.
Federal employees can contribute through the Combined Federal Campaign. Our number is 11624.
Partner for Surgery is a registered 501(c)(3) public charity and gifts to Partner for Surgery are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.
We are looking for volunteers with applicable management, fund raising and marketing skills to help Partner for Surgery transform more Guatemalan lives through medical and surgical care and with education for prevention of disease and birth defects.
If you would like to volunteer or know of someone who would be interested in joining Partner for Surgery, please send an e-mail to email@example.com (Ariel Marroquin, Director of Operations) or call +1 (703) 893-4335.
Partner for Surgery
PO Box 388, McLean
VA 22101, USA