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Patient Story Guatemala

Meet Our Patients: Guatemala City

Meet Dayana

Eleven-year-old Dayana, left, and her mom, Eluvia, attended Operation Smile Guatemala’s May 2022 surgical program in Guatemala City where she received her long-awaited cleft lip surgery. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.

Dayana often asked her mom, “Why me, mom? When will I get surgery?”

Her mother, Eluvia, never had an answer. 

Without access to prenatal ultrasounds, the first time Eluvia saw Dayana’s cleft condition was when the doctor placed her daughter in her arms after giving birth.

Eluvia returned home with love and hope for her daughter’s future. But despite being accepted by her community and family, Dayana soon began facing life-threatening obstacles.

Due to the severity of Dayana’s cleft lip, breastfeeding became impossible, and Eluvia said that she’d stay up at night crying because she couldn’t feed her baby. But even when she was nearly overwhelmed with fear and uncertainty, Eluvia refused to give up.

She resorted to feeding Dayana a water-based substitute from a bottle. Not only did this place an unexpected financial burden on the family, but it also put Dayana at risk of not obtaining the proper nutrition she would’ve received had she been able to breastfeed. 

Two months following her daughter’s birth, Eluvia was told by medical professionals that Dayana was too young for surgery and would need to wait until she was 3 years old. After waiting the suggested three years, Eluvia tried again when she learned about a program (unaffiliated with Operation Smile Guatemala) taking place in Petén.

But the family never received any additional support and wasn’t sure where to go or who to speak to for more information. For the next eight years, Eluvia received no news about other opportunities for surgery.

Unlike previous experiences with seeking care, Eluvia never felt alone once she connected with Operation Smile Guatemala. With Dayana being an older patient who had already endured many years of living with an untreated cleft condition, she became one of Operation Smile Guatemala’s priority patients. And the team of volunteers remained in contact with Eluvia, reassuring her that they would do everything they could to provide her daughter with the life-changing care that she’s waited so long to receive. 

During the program in May, Dayana returned home with a new smile. 

Meet Jobito

Anesthesiologist Dr. Diana Gutierrez of Nicaragua carries 10-month-old Jobito into the operating room during Operation Smile’s 2022 surgical program in Guatemala City. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.

When Jobito was born, he weighed seven pounds.

But his weight and health status were at risk due to his cleft lip and palate. Fortunately, the awareness and recognition of Operation Smile across Guatemala allowed Jobito’s dad, also named Jobito, to learn from a colleague that there was a team of people who could help his son. 

Feeling hopeful, Jobito and his wife, Lilia, were prepared to travel any distance to give their son a chance at a happier and healthier life.

Serving as the hub for Operation Smile Guatemala’s comprehensive care, Guatemala City became the starting place of Jobito’s cleft care journey. After meeting with the family, volunteers immediately fitted Jobito with an obturator to improve his ability to feed. But Lilia’s breastmilk never came in, so even with the pre-surgical dental care, Jobito wasn’t gaining weight or getting any closer to passing his medical health evaluation. 

Thankfully in September 2021, Operation Smile Guatemala enrolled Jobito into their Nutritional Box Program. Every month, families in the program received a box comprised of baby formula, a high-protein soy cereal, vegetables and fruit. Each box Lilia and Jobito received contained enough formula to feed their son for a month. 

When Jobito arrived to Operation Smile Guatemala’s program in Guatemala City, he weighed 16 pounds. 

As a graduate of the nutrition program, Jobito was examined by nutritionists and pediatricians, who determined that he could be placed on the surgical schedule.

Lilia shared how deeply grateful she was for the support of the Operation Smile Guatemala team, stating that the Nutritional Box Program was the key component in Jobito becoming healthy enough to receive his new smile. 

Meet Lia

Two-year-old Lia waits with her father, Gerardo, before entering the operating room to receive her life-changing surgery during Operation Smile’s surgical program in Guatemala City. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.

The love Gerardo had for his daughter, Lia, became apparent to anyone who glanced toward them during screening at the May 2022 surgical program in Guatemala City.

But it wasn’t until volunteers heard their story that they discovered just how deep his love and devotion truly went.

Gerardo’s attention never strayed too far from Lia as they met with nutritionists, dentists, anesthesiologists, pediatricians and others at each stage of the screening process. Following Lia’s comprehensive health evaluation, the medical team determined that Lia was healthy enough for surgery and quickly shared the exciting news with Gerardo.

Her dad was thrilled to hear that Lia was scheduled for surgery, but Gerardo had become familiar with the pain of experiencing unexpected disappointment while seeking care for her. Our May 2022 surgical program was the family’s fourth attempt at getting Lia cleft surgery through Operation Smile Guatemala. 

With no known history of cleft conditions in their family, Gerardo told us that he believed the reason Lia was born with a cleft lip was to bring him and his wife, Yaneide, closer to God.

The discovery of Operation Smile Guatemala and its upcoming surgical program back in May 2021 restored the family’s hope. What they didn’t know at the time was that the May program would become the first of many attempts along their journey.

Lia didn’t pass her first health evaluation because she was sick, but the family was informed that there would be another opportunity the following month in June 2021. Patients who are born with cleft lip and cleft palate are at a higher risk of becoming malnourished, developing frequent illnesses and facing delays in growth. By the time the next program arrived, Lia had once again become sick, and volunteers determined it wouldn’t be safe for her to receive care until she was healthier. 

Gerardo never let his disappointment outweigh his determination.  

Nearly a year later in February 2022, their hope returned when Operation Smile Guatemala told Yaneide and Gerardo that they were holding a surgical program in Petén, nine hours from Lia’s home. But after reaching the program site, the family was told for the third time that Lia couldn’t be scheduled. Gerardo tested positive for COVID-19.

Again, Lia’s family pushed forward together.

Enduring three failed attempts at surgery, traveling countless miles from their home and making the eight-hour journey to Guatemala City, Lia’s fourth attempt at cleft surgery was a success.

She departed the program with a new smile and her dad by her side, who was more than ready to watch his daughter live a healthier and brighter life. 

Explore More Stories from Guatemala:

Nutritionist Monica Arredondo evaluates 10-month-old Jobito as he sits on his mother's lap prior to surgery. Jobito was one of Operation Smile Guatemala's nutrition program graduates. Nutrition is a key component of Operation Smile's comprehensive cleft care.Photo: Rohanna Mertens.
In Guatemala, where one in every two children suffers from chronic malnutrition, volunteer nutritionist Monica Arredondo is not only saving lives but helping alleviate an immense need in the country she loves.
Alongside with his mother, Carmelina, 10-month-old Juan Elias was examined by volunteer dentist Dr. Vilma Arteaga at screening during Operation Smile Guatemala’s May 2021 medical mission​ in Guatemala City. Juan Elias, who was later deemed healthy enough to undergo surgery, was one of 26 patients to receive comprehensive health evaluations. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.
A passionate team of medical volunteers changed the lives of 15 patients during our three-day surgical program in Guatemala City.
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In Guatemala, where one in every two children suffers from chronic malnutrition, volunteer nutritionist Monica Arredondo is not only saving lives but helping alleviate an immense need in the country she loves.
2.
A passionate team of medical volunteers changed the lives of 15 patients during our three-day surgical program in Guatemala City.
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Our promise of improving health and dignity during the COVID-19 pandemic endures. Once again, we’re providing surgery and in-person care while taking stringent measures to keep families safe. Hope is on the horizon. And we remain focused on what cleft care makes possible for children, helping them to better breathe, eat, speak and live with confidence.

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