Older children, young adults and sometimes the elderly who are physically challenged from walking on congenitally clubbed feet. The options available to children born with this birth disability are scarce in rural Guatemala and non-existent for the population we serve on our annual team trips to this Central American country. Living in a country where ambulation, rather than automation, is the more common way of travel, walking is a critical skill.
Toddlers are adventurous beings. They crawl, pull up and eventually discover the joy of being ambulatory. When tiny feet are incorrectly aligned orthopedically, weight bearing becomes problematic. Callouses form on the ankle bone, hips are thrown out of alignment, calf muscles atrophy and ulcers sometimes develop on ankles that were never meant to act as feet. Older children who have not received care often have to be carried into our clinics on their parent's backs. A street beggar in Guatemala with a disability is most likely an adult who can no longer walk due to an non-repaired club foot.
When we see an infant with this common (an estimated 1 out of 1,000 children) congenital issue on our Children of the Americas teams, we are thrilled to have our volunteer orthopedic medical volunteers. Our surgeon, Dr. George Quill (https://www.louortho.com/doctor-quill.asp) corrects each case with precision. COTA pediatric nurses care for each patient post-operatively and teach the parents how to tend to the casts. Our pharmacists donate pain medication and antibiotics, and COTA translators make sure parents understand the directions. Six weeks later, stitches and casts are removed and temporary bracing applied by Julio Fuentes, (http://ortopediacentroamericana.com), our Guatemalan orthotics and prosthetics professional. It is an amazing network of skilled volunteers who come together with the intention of helping the children in rural Guatemala with a critical skill for future self-sufficiency. The cost of this surgery, were it available to them, would cost many thousands of dollars. The average annual salary of an indigenous Guatemalan father trying to provide for his family in the areas we serve is less than $2,000. We donated fifteen club foot surgeries on our recent trip to Salama, Guatemala, making our in-kind donation of orthopedic clubfoot care valued at over $90,000.
Parents should never have to make a choice to use scarce financial resources so their child either eats today or becomes self-sufficient in the future. Children of the Americas strives to take this difficult choice off of the collective shoulders of over a dozen families each year through the donation of orthopedic surgery. Some children return the following year for surgery on the other foot, others need further bracing from Julio.
There is nothing a child dislikes more than being different from their peers. When a disability is combined with immobility, the burden of a difficult future not only rests on the child, but also his caretakers. In-kind donations only reflect the dollar value of the medical care that was delivered. It is impossible to place value on the improved quality of life that repairing impaired feet offers.
We think each child who was the beneficiary of this gift would say it was priceless.