By Patricia Yoon, MD
We’ve had an amazing week down here and I can’t believe how quickly it’s gone by! Friday was our last day of surgery, and held our post-op clinic Saturday. Our days have been nonstop from dawn until dusk, and we’ve treated so many children. But with as much as we’ve packed into a few days, I can’t help but think about how much more work there is left to be done!
We were asked to see a consult at Juan Pablo Children’s Hospital, the only pediatric hospital in Guatemala. Dr. Aguilar, a local ENT physician who works with the Shalom Foundation, asked us to see Maria, a 2- month-old baby who was not able to breathe when she was born. She had required placement of a tracheostomy tube to breathe, but the cause of her airway obstruction was unknown.
Dr. Aguilar knew that Maria required a laryngoscopy and bronchoscopy to determine the cause of her breathing difficulties, but lamented that she did not have the equipment to perform the procedure – one which is performed multiple times in a typical day at Children’s Colorado. Maria was on a ventilator in the intensive care unit, which was antiquated and bleak, to say the least. Lighting was dim – bulbs were flickering or missing, supply cabinets were empty, cribs were rusty, and duct tape seemed to be the savior of most of the equipment.
Maria was on a ventilator, yet had a blue pallor to her face, and no oxygen saturation monitor available. Sadly, Maria will have to wait to receive a diagnosis and the care she needs – we could not transport her to our surgery center on a ventilator. Hopefully she will still be around next time.
Anna was another child who tugged at my heartstrings. She and her mother showed up in our clinic on our first day in Guatemala. Anna was an 11-year-old girl born with a severe congenital malformation of her jaw. Her lower jaw was so small that she had no chin, and her mandible was fused to her skull so she has never been able to open her mouth.
She was full of love, giving us all hugs and kisses, and her mother arrived full of optimism that we could make her daughter’s jaw “work” and make her look “normal.”
Anna’s problem is complex, and she will need many surgeries by several different teams, using equipment which we do not have here at this time. It was very difficult to tell Anna and her mother they will have to wait, and that we cannot “fix” her this time. Anna and her mother were nevertheless unfailingly gracious and grateful. I hope that we, or another team, can give her better news in the future.
Exhausted but renewed
Our past few days have been packed with so many memorable and moving experiences. We left the surgery center every evening completely exhausted, but renewed in other ways. It has truly been an honor to have this opportunity. And what we couldn’t accomplish this time will certainly give us a good reason to come back.