Our time here is almost over, and everyone is both sad and happy. We are sad that in one short hour we will have to say goodbye to the children, their families, and our host Rotarians. We are happy because 120 children received 156 procedures. These surgeries will change the lives of these individuals and their families.
Seven days of surgery tend to run together until something triggers a memory. Each one of us will carry those memories for a very long time. The patients will enter a new phase of their lives with a new smile .
How many of us can say, “Today I made a difference.” Rotaplast gives us that power, as part of the team whose parts are far greater than as individuals.
Eduardo was born with many congenital defects including severe right leg and hip deformity, club foot, cleft lip and palate on both sides of his mouth, and scoliosis. Shortly after he was born, Eduardo’s father abandoned the family. Eduardo’s mother Yurbis has dedicated the past five years of her life to her son.
In five years Eduardo has endured 17 surgeries. Some of these surgeries were done to lengthen his leg, others to repair his foot, and the surgeries by Rotaplast were to repair his mouth.
Every year for the past four years Eduardo and his mother have traveled from the small town of Sabaneta de Tunapuicito, 3 hours from Cumana. He was not a candidate for surgery the last two years because the previous surgeries made another one too dangerous. Each time, on the long bus ride home, Eduardo asked why his mother was weeping. This time, Eduardo’s mother is happy because he has been cleared for surgery to have his mouth repaired.
You might think that these physical hardships would negatively affect Eduardo’s attitude, but you have never met such a positive, happy boy. He is in the first grade, and loves playing computer games and watching movies. He sometimes feels sad because he wants to understand why he is not like the other kids. He uses a walker at home but does not take it to school because a few of the children make fun of him.
Eduardo is adored by his mother and grandparents. They travel twice each month to Orthopedica Infantile Hospital in Caracas. The hospital is 700 km from their home and it takes the family 11 hours to get there. His mother plans Eduardo’s other surgeries around the annual Rotaplast mission to make sure Eduardo will not miss a chance to be seen by the Rotaplast doctors.
Rotaplast comes to fix smiles, but, in this case, Eduardo brings a smile to all of us.
Nohemi is the youngest of six children, and lives in the city of Carupano, Venezuela. She is a bright, friendly girl with many friends, and a supportive family. Shortly after Nohemi was born her parents tried to get corrective surgery for her cleft palate. They were told to bring her back the next year as she was too young.
Unfortunately fate intervened as Nohemi’s mother became sick with ovarian cancer, and the family’s attention focused on her mother. Tragically Nohemi’s mother lost her battle to cancer four years ago when she was only 40. Nohemi’s father Luinis again focused on having his daughters cleft palate repaired, and Nohemi received her first surgery two years ago at age nine.
One of the greatest difficulties for people with cleft palate is speech. They cannot pronounce words well with vowel sounds being the hardest. Corrective surgery for a cleft palate is encouraged before 18 months. After this age children may develop habits that must be unlearned with great difficulty.
Nohemi, a slim girl with pretty brown hair, now 11, is having problems at school, not because she has trouble with the subject material, but because she cannot speak correctly. She is being held back to the third grade only because she cannot pronounce vowel sounds.
We all hope that the second surgery she is having today will improve her ability to speak and be understood.
The Rotaplast mission is much more than the outward appearance of a smile.
Hopefully with time and speech therapy Nohemi will have the confidence to smile. Cleft palate surgery will improve her speech and enable her to continue school with her friends. Rotaplast is improving her life in a way that is not so visible to the eye, but to the ear.
On Saturday a pretty girl named Marielys Salazar had surgery for Mobius syndrome. Mobius syndrome is extremely rare, and children with the syndrome are unable to smile or show emotion due to lack of facial nerve function. Imagine how difficult it must be for Marielys if she cannot express her happiness to her family and friends. Children born with this syndrome also have difficulty speaking and swallowing.
Gemma, Marielys’ Speech Pathologist, met her a few years ago when she went to help with her speech. Gemma learned that when Marielys was a baby, she was given some medicine orally to calm her for an MRI procedure. Unfortunately, Marielys has difficulty swallowing and aspirated the medicine, and almost died! The doctors told her parents that she was allergic to anesthesia, and for this reason, her parents were afraid to get any surgical help for Marielys.
Gemma wanted to help Marielys so much that she convinced her parents to test her for allergic reaction to anesthesia and it was discovered that she was not allergic. Gemma heard that a Rotaplast mission was coming to Cumana, and persuaded Mariely’s parents to bring her to our clinic. Luckily, for Marielys, one of our surgeons, Dr. David Low, a surgeon from the University of Pennsylvania, was willing to try a complicated procedure that could change her life. The muscle that controls her chewing, still had function, so Dr. Low decided to separate that muscle and attach part of it to the inside of her mouth. Hopefully, after recovery and with time, when she clenches her mouth it will enable her to smile.
A smile is such a powerful way to communicate how you feel. Can you imagine how difficult it is to be unable to show the world that you feel happy? Thanks to Gemma, David Low, and a great deal of team work this young girl now has a chance for a better life.
As in many endeavors success depends on teamwork, and we had a winning team today. The Rotary club of Cumanagoto was highly organized and well prepared. Volunteers came from Toyota Venezuela, Chevron Venezuela, the Fundacion Nino, Fundasalud, and the local Rotaract Club. It is always rewarding to be part of a winning team, and today at clinic we examined over two hundred patients.
Two hundred children showed up at the pre-clinic. To their parents as well as Rotaplast, each child that attended is a piece of Venezuela's future as well as a treasure in their family. When parents or guardians entrust us with their children it is a responsibility we do not take lightly.
Opening clinic may appear chaotic but with the help of many the day ran smoothly. This little girl does not seem to be phased by all the activity around her as she is secure in her mothers arms.
Dr. John Lee listens carefully.
This boy is in good hands with Dr. Soma Avva.
Why is this girl holding a towel?
We frequently see children with a towel clung tightly to their face. Sometimes is to hide their lip, or to plug the hole in the roof of their mouth. This hole in the roof of the mouth, or cleft palate is a serious problem. A cleft palate that is not repaired will cause health issues, which can be severe and impair a child's speech for life.
In the next blog I will explain why repairing a cleft palate is as important as repairing the cleft lip for a child's future.