As the Ward Coordinator, my role is to keep track of the patients, both coming and going. I work very closely with the pediatricians and the PACU (recovery room) staff. The pediatricians are charged with ensuring that the kids are still healthy for surgery and for monitoring their progress post surgery. The pace is frenetic and at times, felt chaotic. But by the second or third day, it became controlled chaos.
I feel so fortunate to have been assigned as the Ward Coordinator because I get to spend so much time with the families. I answer their questions throughout the day, I keep them informed about what is happening with their child and I spend a lot of time reassuring the mothers not to worry and that their child is in very good hands when they send them off to the OR. This is the most difficult part for most parents – the moment when they must put their child in to the hands of a foreign doctor.
I have been so humbled to hear the stories of these families and the struggles they have overcome to get their children a chance at a life changing surgery. One family had to walk for three hours just to get to a bus stop.
The story that touched us all the most was that of two-year-old Antony and his mother Jacelyn. We first met them on Pre Clinic day and got to know their story quite well over the following two weeks:
Five months ago, Jacelyn and her husband were on their way to sell their truck to pay for surgery for Antony when they were ambushed by a gang. After demanding what little money they had, the gang opened fire. Five shots were fired and all three in the truck were hit, including Antony. Antony’s father died when a bullet entered one side of his jaw, came out the other and lodged itself in to Antony’s shoulder.
Jaceyln now lives in fear because the gang has come after her and has threatened Antony’s life and her own. Her mother-in-law has also been threatened because she attends the hearings in Guatemala City for the man accused of killing her son. He faces 50 years in prison for murdering Antony’s father and 25 years for the attempted murder of Antony.
Somehow, they both made it to Retalhuleu for the Rotaplast Mission. Antony was checked in and sent down the hall for surgery on day two of the mission. Shortly after he went in to the OR, he came back out again. He did not respond well to the anesthesia and surgery was aborted. He needed to take antibiotics for at least five days before surgery could be attempted again.
The problem was that Jacelyn and Antony lived so far away, they would not be able to make the trek in to Retalhuleu twice. Our staff didn’t hesitate and offered to contribute money personally to get a hotel and pay for food for Antony and Jacelyn until he could be reevaluated for surgery the following Monday. Jacelyn was so grateful and she cried when we gave her the news.
The following Monday, Antony was cleared for surgery and had a very successful palate revision surgery. By then, an older woman whom I understood was Jacelyn’s mother, had joined her in Retalhuleu for Antony’s surgery.
Jacelyn was let in to be with Antony as he recovered from anesthesia. I saw the grandmother in the hall weeping uncontrollably and I stopped to reassure her that Antony was okay and that the surgery had gone well. She understood that. She said Antony was the only reminder she had of her son who was gone. She was actually Jacelyn’s mother-in-law, the one who had spent all her time in Guatemala seeking justice for her son's killer.
Antony spent the next two days roaming the halls of the hospital blowing kisses to all the staff. He finally went home on our final day of clinic. His mother and grandmother left with thanks and asked that God may bless each one of us.
I have been forever changed by my experience in Retalhuleu with Rotaplast. Hearing stories like these and spending time with families who have so little and give so much, I can’t go home the same person. –Rebecca Weaver, Ward Coordinator, Foothill Communities Rotary Club