by August Longino
This past month has been an exciting one for Timmy in Ecuador. This November, Timmy helped seven patients from the Amazon Basin get life-altering operations. Four of our patients had cleft lips: Diana (15 months old), Damian Â (11 months), Ailet (1 year and 8 months), and Freire (16 months). Two of the patients had cleft palates, Genesis (16 months) and Monica (2 years). Orlindo (18 years old), received treatment for severe scarring on his face, the result of a terrible burn years before. Thanks to this surgery, Orlindo can now speak clearly and open his mouth fully, and our younger patients will now have the chance to develop at a normal pace and lead healthier lives.
The surgeries were performed by MMFC (Medical Missions for Children), a Boston-based organization that has been volunteering in Quito for years in cooperation with Timmyâ€™s partner hospital Un Canto a la Vida. MMFC brought a team of expert surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists, and other volunteers from around the world to perform life-changing plastic surgeries, from skin grafts to cleft lips to surgical dental repair on countless patients. The surgical team, led by a local Ecuadorian doctor, stayed in Quito for a week, operating for free, serving needy patients that would otherwise never have access to even basic healthcare, much less advanced plastic surgery.
These seven cases are clear examples of how Timmy Global Health and MMFCâ€™s missions and models dovetail to get the best care to those who need it most. Timmy clinics cast a wide net, seeing thousands of patients every year–from the mountains in Quito to the jungle in Tena, and the highlands of Guatemala to the bateys of the Dominican Republic. When we find particularly complex surgical cases that do not require immediate care, we carefully file them away, and wait for the arrival of groups like MMFC, Partner for Surgery, or surgical teams–like the one that will be performing more than 80 hernia repairs in late November. As the date approaches, we work with our local partner hospitals to prepare our surgical candidates, ensuring they get the necessary exams the surgeons need to determine whether or not the patient is a good candidate for surgery. After a preliminary examination at the Stadler-Richter hospital in Napo province, patients and their families are brought to Quito, where Timmy provides them with room and board until they are scheduled for surgery. Once the patient is discharged, Timmy staff make sure they make it home safely.
While this process seems fairly straightforward– it’s much more complicated than it might appear. Patients face a variety of barriers to healthcare: some economic, some practical, and some cultural. Ailet and Damian and their mothers both woke up before dawn to start lengthy canoe rides that preceded long walks to dirt roads, where they were finally picked up by trucks that would take them on the 4-5 hour drive to Quito. None of the seven patients that were operated on would have ever been able to afford even a bus ticket to Quito, let alone a costly plastic surgeries. Many of our patients do not even know that surgical interventions like the ones MMFC provides exist. Finally, patients must overcome their fear. For almost all of the 7 patients we treated in November, this was their first trip to Quito–a distant city described on the radio as vast, freezing, and dangerous. It might as well be a different planet. It’s Timmyâ€™s job to reduce these barriers to the greatest extent possible. To this end, we work with the local government to provide transportation from remote villages to Quito, we provide lodging for patients once they arrive, and we break-down the language barrier by hiring translators that speak both Spanish and Kichwa (a native indigenous language spoken by many in the Amazon basin).
A successful surgery is just the beginning for these patients. In the weeks and months following surgical cases and other important referrals, Timmy makes every effort to ensure that our patients comply with their followup appointments. Â Each of the seven in this story have all been examined at the local hospital here in Napo and so far, haven’t had a single complications. For many of these patients, however, there preliminary operations are just the first step down a long road. The infants that had their cleft palates and lips closed this year will wait until next year, when the medical team returns, to have their palates closed. Although it’s a much longer process here in the Amazon Basin than it is in developed countries, our patients are thankful to have access to life-changing surgeries that they may never have had access to otherwise. Monica, was one of these patients. Her mother (also Monica), was grateful to see her patience rewarded by the promised second surgery. Her experience gave the other mothers, whose children received the first surgery, the hope and strength to await MMFCâ€™s return in 2013. In the coming months, Timmy will continue to keep new patient histories on file, and will seek out new surgical candidates when it is time to start the process over again next year.