It began with a text.  An aunt sees a poster for this year’s Iowa MOST mission and wonders if it might help her nephew. She texts a photo of the poster to the parents.  They call the number on the poster and talk with local Rotarian David Ramos. He encourages them to come. 

Edson and his dad arriving at the hospital

They leave their home on the coast at 1 a.m. on Saturday to travel 12 hours by bus from San Barrios on the east coast of Guatemala all the way to Huehuetenango.  They have made arrangements to leave their two other children with family. Their neighbor and friend of 10 years, Carmen, accompanies them to lend her support. They don’t know where they will stay or whether their son will be helped. 

Their little boy Edson—a twin to sister Jaritsa—has a cleft palate and cleft lip.  They left home for a city where they know no one, fueled by hope for medical treatment for their 13 month-old son.  They arrive around 2 p.m. on screening day to find more than 60 other families waiting for screening.  

Soon there is good news for Edson and his parents, Javier and Ophelia. Edson is a good candidate for surgery.  He weighs enough to safely receive anesthesia. He does not have any problems with infection. He hasn’t been ill.  His heart is strong. His lungs are strong. Other parents leave with children who need to return next year when they are healthy enough for surgery.  Edson stays and gets scheduled for surgery on Monday morning.

Edson and Ophelia

After finding out the surgery schedule, arrangements are made for the family—as with all families here for the mission—to stay at a local shelter where they receive free accommodation including meals from local restauranteur and Rotarian David Ramos.  In addition to the medical help, the Iowa MOST team and the Rotary Club of Huehuetenango does our best to make every family feel welcome and to extend our hospitality and respect to all.

Consulting with Dr. Mueller

Edson and his mom and dad arrive back to the hospital in the late afternoon on Sunday to spend the night with the 4 other families who have children receiving surgeries on Monday.  Though Edson hasn’t been able to nurse since 1:30 a.m. on Monday, when we see him around 7 a.m. he is still a pretty happy baby. By 8 a.m. the team is prepping Edson for surgery, giving him oxygen and letting his mom know what to expect.  Then the moment arrives for Edson to go with Dr. Mueller, the anesthesiologist.

Try to imagine what it must be like for the parents.  They are putting their faith in people they have never met and who do not speak the same language.  They are making a hard choice out of love. Mom and her friend are in tears. Mission coordinator Juan Francisco Fernandez spends time praying with them and comforting them.  Dad arrives and we all sit together and talk about their home and their journey, and the love they have for their children. They say that the other families at the shelter have told them what good care their son will receive.  They assure us they have faith in us.

Edson and Laura

Around 10:45 a.m., Dr. John Canady emerges to tell Javier and Ophelia and their friend Carmen that Edson has done beautifully.  His first surgery has been completed without any complications. He explains next steps with translation help from Maria Morales (daughter of local Rotarian Carlos Morales and Lourdes Afre Morales). The parents learn that Edson has gauze that needs to stay in one nostril for about two weeks which will help improve the shape of the nostril.  He helps them understand that the special “glue” over the stitches is there to protect the lip and will come off on its own, as will the stitches themselves. 

A sleepy Edson after surgery

In future years Edson will need additional work done to repair the palate and is likely to need tubes in his ears.  His family will again travel across the country by chicken bus in search of a better future for their son. The next time they travel to Huehuetenango, they will know that they have friends here who will take good care of them and their son.

Javier and Ophelia smile and nod and tell Dr. Canady how grateful they are.  They turn to me and say that he is now “el padrino de Edson,” – Edson’s godfather.  Dr. Canady beams. Javier and Ophelia beam.

Javier and Ophelia with “El Padrino”

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