Saturday, August 29, 2015

What Ever Happened to Ever?

Remember this toddler? 
Children of the Americas 2015 Team Members do. Our triage volunteers first met him after he and his mother stood in our intake line for many hours this past January in San Benito, Guatemala. Our pediatrician consulted with his mother  when she was called into the clinic room for the much anticipated physical evaluation of her son. The COTA pediatric nurses bonded with Ever and his mother when it was determined that this toddler's problem was beyond our ability to correct on a team and he must be evaluated for our stateside program. While on our pediatric ward we interviewed Ever's mother, taught her about her son's birth malformation and gave her the first-ever colostomy bags she had ever received for her son's open colostomy on his lower abdomen. How many mothers reading this blog post can imagine caring for an active toddler with an open solid waste portal on his abdomen....without any type of containment system?
Children of the Americas leaves every Guatemalan medical team with three of four stateside referrals; children who are beyond the technical scope of our surgical abilities to care for within the confines of working in a Central American hospital. Finding care for these children in United States hospitals that are struggling with caring for our own citizens is an art form that requires dedication, many hours of paperwork and the combined efforts of 4-5 COTA volunteers.
In other words, any child who ends up traveling to the U.S. for donated care wins the "COTA lottery."
Collaboration when attempting to heal the complex medical needs of a Guatemalan child with a birth anomaly is essential and the final details with all of the partners are being worked out for Ever's travel to the states in two months. 
As hard as COTA volunteers worked on Ever's behalf, his mother worked harder. She called our volunteer, Bernice, every two weeks as instructed. She prayed, walked to high hills to get cell phone service, traveled 10 hours each way on a chicken bus to get her son's diagnostic studies done and she never lost hope. Here are the conditions under which she parents her sick son:

The Petén area of Guatemala is hot country. The family lives "en la montaña", out in the country, in a wooden structure, without electricity. They cook with firewood; they sleep on the floor.
There is a small wooden structure in the town that they use whenever they need to go to town, but they mainly live in the countryside far from town where they cultivate corn, the basic food crop. When we talked today, all the family was planting corn.  
For cash, the father and the older boys look for seasonal work on plantations, not necessarily nearby. When they don't have to work their own land they go to a plantation for weeks at a time. Delmy's father estimates he earns about Q.2000.00 a year. At the 
present exchange rate of about Q7.6/$ that would be $ 263.00 per year. Of course, everybody in the family has to do something to help get some cash.
I asked if they wanted to say anything to the people who will be receiving their information. Delmy's father said one word: Agradecimiento (Gratitude).
  Several weeks ago Delmy and her father brought Ever to Guatemala City for a required barium enema test. They traveled all night by bus and arrived at 6.a.m. We had helped them with bus fare. When they finished with the test it was around noon. I took them to the bus station to buy a return ticket. Delmy's father said they would take the night bus back, because it was cheaper. I insisted they take an earlier bus rather than sit all those hours in the bus station, since they would have to buy food, etc while waiting. He really didn't want to spend more of COTA's money than necessary. I talked with him about the effort the family would have to make to fulfill the requirements for Ever to get the surgery in the USA, and told him there was still no guarantee they would find the volunteer hospital and surgeon after all their efforts. He simply said: "Whatever it takes to help this child be well and have a better life, we'll do it." 
Written by Bernice Kita, Guatemalan volunteer 

There is more of this story to be shared in the next blog post. Details on the organization who has agreed to gift Ever with donated surgery; his future travel to obtain his care; the adjustments his mother must make as she takes her first plane ride and leaves her family behind so that Ever can get the surgery he needs. It will be their story to tell, and ours to share as we collaborate in bringing the pieces of adventure together for Ever's journey to health. 


Monday, July 13, 2015

Caring for the Caretakers in Guatemala

Mama and toddler: hopeful and hungry
 She looked like she hadn't eaten anything substantially nutritious in days, if not longer. She had stood in our clinic line in 98 degree heat for hours so that her son could be evaluated for donated cleft surgery and trying to make eye contact with her was unsuccessful. This hot, hungry and exhausted mama had retreated inward, to a place where the noise and chaos of our COTA medical clinic and the emotional distress of two little ones couldn't penetrate. She was, as we say, "over it."

The three month old
This mama was one of over 1,400 women that we saw in January on our medical team. They all came with histories of hardship and of lacking; with hope that they or their child would be on the Children of the Americas donated surgical list, or treated for a rotten tooth, medical malady or prosthetic need. 
Children of the Americas volunteers leave these annual medial teams humbled and awed by the caretakers of Guatemala. The women who go without basic needs but still find the ability to give of themselves, day after day... after day. They inspire us with their patience and humility in the face of a lifestyle that allows little in the way of self care, and nothing of luxury.
Hundreds of women in clinic line

Our COTA volunteers can only offer our talents and compassion- a physical healing that we hope brings emotional relief; caring for the Guatemala caretaker so that she is free of at least one concern. 
After the toddler (above) received his donated cleft surgery, his mother walked to the local bus stop. Her son was on her back, the baby in her arms and her waistline seemed even smaller than the day before. 
Professional fundraisers encourage COTA to promote our cost-basis donations. A cleft lip repair in the United States would cost this mama at least $6,000. For an indigenous mother in rural Guatemala, $6,000 is a sum that is beyond imagination. In reality, there is no figure that can be placed on the value of relieving Maria of the concern for her son's health. That relief is priceless.

Our COTA Cleft team

Friday, May 8, 2015

COTA Salutes our Nurses

Nurses Week, which started on May 6th, acknowledges the commitment, compassion and care nurses display while practicing their profession. This is a week that COTA  celebrates the nurses we know and care about; to reflect on the power of their profession; and to salute them.

 This year’s National Nurses Week theme is “Ethical Practice. Quality Care.”  
The hallmark of an ethical professional is shown in the quality of patient care that is delivered when no one else is watching. When your patient can't speak your language. When you will walk away a week after your job and you will never see that patient again. When you know that malpractice is not an option, hospital administration oversight is minimal and peer reviews are not an issue....but you do the job just as you would if those pressures were present. 
Children of the Americas had 28 of those kind of nurses on our recent medical team in San Benito, Guatemala this past January. Twenty eight people who were ethical, competent and altruistic and treated each patient just like they would have if they were practicing their profession in the United States. 
Without our nurses, patients would not have had their needs met, surgeons would be missing expert staff to pass instruments and prep patients, and post operative care would have been missing without our team nurses. 
In short, we would not have had a medical team. 
Our nurse volunteers are our support system: our foundation.They spent a week working long hours while paying their own expenses to travel with us. They give up vacation time that could have been used to be with their families. COTA nurses return to the United States with empty pockets, tired feet and a major dose of fatigue. Our organization could not ask more of them because they already give 110%.

Children of the Americas nurses:

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Observations From a New COTA Volunteer

Valesca Bybee
I am blessed to know Doctor Mike McNevin! This wonderful man gave me the opportunity to join the COTA team this year and be a part of a life changing experience as an interpreter! It sure did change my life and I can't wait to go back!
I was born and raised in South America, and have been in the United States for 20+ years. I live in beautiful Colorado with my husband, son and 3 dogs. I went back to school a couple of years ago and I am finishing up a degree in Public Health, which is one of my life's passions.
Being part of the COTA team and serving the people of Guatemala was a dream come true for me. If I could do this full time, I would in a heart beat!
I was overwhelmed by the generosity of the people there, and the willingness to give back to us as we helped the people of their country. I met some amazing women and children that kept a little piece of my heart. The need of health care in Guatemala is great and having teams like COTA go out and help is a blessing.
Line of patients awaiting care
I had so many amazing experiences that it is hard to just pick one. One of my many favorites was working in the pediatrics clinic. We saw so many wonderful children with so many health issues. Parents came in with hopeful hearts and smiles on their faces. Even if all we could offer were vitamins, they were so grateful! 
Another favorite was working with the Women clinic. I met some strong women, women that truly know what hard work is all about. Mothers that would give it all for the sake of their children. Inspiring women for sure. 
There was an adorable couple who worked in a "tienda" near our hotel. Such sweet people! They were so giving and thankful that we were there. Every time I stopped by they wanted to gift me something to show their gratitude. It was very humbling.  
I think we take for granted what we have and most important of all, our health. This was definitely a reminder for me.
The COTA team was amazing! The individuals on this team are there to serve and have big hearts. I am looking forward to next year!  
Valesca Bybee

Friday, January 30, 2015

Wearing Different Hats in Guatemala

The latest COTA team is finished and was hugely successful by every measure: we saw over 2,600 clinic patients, did 113 surgeries and filled over 5,000 free prescriptions in less than a week. All of our volunteers arrived home safely (thankfully just before the recent storm) and now is our time for reflection. As always, we think back to how we performed, wonder how we can improve and already look forward to next year. 
While volunteering for a Children of the Americas team we often find ourselves working in very different roles than we do in our "real" jobs back home. Our volunteers take the word team seriously; whatever it takes to provide the best quality medical care to a very large number of patients in a short week gets done, whether the task at hand is something we usually do or not. It gets somewhat comical to see ourselves in unusual roles. Here are some of the tongue-in-cheek job descriptions we acquire while in Guatemala. 
The smiles are not a job requirement; they come naturally from being happy for the privilege to work with such a great group of people and patients.
Staff Nutritionists  
(also known as volunteers from Kentucky and former Peace Corp worker)
Medical Staff Liaison 
(COTA volunteer who helped Guatemalan doctor with emergency patient)
Patient Intake Coordinators 
(Guatemalan volunteer and EMT from West Virginia)
Patient Ombudsman 
 (anesthesiologist from Denver)
Multicultural Staff Liaisons
 (also known as Guatemalan and American pediatric nurses)
Dental Tech
 (retired nurse from KY)
Clinic Providers 
(AKA pediatric cardiologist and hospital CFO)
Parent Educator 
(COTA RN from Florida)
Transportation Specialists 
(COTA volunteers helping however they can)
International Goodwill Ambassadors 
(COTA medical volunteers)
No title needed here: A happy post-op patient and his grateful father

Saturday, January 10, 2015

There is Always One

Children of the Americas has traveled to Guatemala for annual medical/surgical/dental and prosthetics teams for over twenty years. Many of our administrative staff volunteers are there now, preparing for our upcoming team in San Benito starting next Saturday when we will meet over a thousand patients, and out of those, we will potentially donate surgery to well over one hundred women and children. While working in the Guatemalan hospitals, our nurses, who staff our patients 24/7 during the week we are there, frequently become close to a particular patient. In our minds, this patient, whoever it is, is the one we were meant to be in Guatemala for. Perhaps it is our way of attaching meaning to our week of volunteering; a difficult but rewarding time of being outside of our comfort zone while trying to make the world of health care a better one for our patients. 
In 2012, baby Steven was "the one."

Maybe it was his eyes...big and brown and laced with eyelashes that quickly won him the title of Snuffleupagus, the Sesame Street character of days gone by. Or it could have been his mother, who had gone through months of hospitalizations with her baby, losing sleep, adequate nutrition and time with her family while making it all seem much easier than it was. Her faith was steadfast, her parenting exemplary and she spent many hours helping other mothers on the ward who had babies just as sick as hers was.
We left the hospital six days later, inspired and in awe of her strength.Before departing, COTA nurse Kelley filled a bag with infant vitamins, food for his mother, formula for Steven, Tylenol, clothing and many hugs to get Steven's mother through the upcoming months. Nursing student Erin collected the bib you see in the photo, as well as some donated baby quilts. Jennifer gave some funds to keep Steven's mother fed while he was hospitalized. Dr. Cottrill, our pediatric cardiologist, evaluated Steven's health care needs. 

 Simone, our ultrasound volunteer, scanned his kidneys to determine the cause of his chronic infections. He wasn't one of our COTA patients (he had been hospitalized for weeks before we came), but he quickly became "our" baby. Many hands and hearts came together for this little one.
After leaving Guatemala, we kept up with Steven and his mother. Some of our nurses sent money to his family to cover the cost of more hospitalizations and formula that the family couldn't afford. We celebrated his first steps and were saddened by the news when Steven was diagnosed with a chronic lifelong illness. 

We recently received this photo of Steven, who is now three years old and thriving thanks to dedicated and determined parents. We are not sure who the special patient we are meant to be in Guatemala for will be this year, but we do know that our COTA nurses, support staff and doctors will make each patient feel like they are the one we were meant to be in Guatemala for this year. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Meet Bobby

This is Bobby. He lives in Western Kentucky, he is a retired educator, husband to an amazing woman and he has a heart of gold. If he were asked to describe himself, Bobby would be at a loss for words, because he is also modest and quiet in nature. Guided by principles and integrity, Bobby feels better when he is allowed to do his good works on the sidelines, driven by the need to do things correctly rather than for acknowledgement. 

All of the above may explain why, in the year 2000, Bobby found the courage to board this plane in Guatemala City, which was as you can see in the photo, literally held together by tape. Flying on this particular plane was the only way that Bobby could continue to travel with and volunteer for the medical mission trip he had signed up for. We had to get from one end of Guatemala to the other, there were hundreds of patients waiting for us at our destination and working on his first Children of the Americas team was what he had agreed to do. 
Bobby is a man of his word.
He got on the plane. 
I wish I could report that the ride was uneventful, and that the tape on the door had nothing to do with the integrity of the airplane but I would be wrong. 
Twenty minutes into the flight the plane warning lights and sirens went off, indicating that there was a problem with either the instruments or the engines. Since he didn't speak Spanish, he wasn't sure what the problem was, but Bobby did participate in the group prayer; volunteers strapped into their cargo seats on the perimeter of the metal interior of the plane, holding hands, sweating profusely and praying.
One tense aircraft landing later Bobby and 35 other COTA volunteers had safely arrived in northern Guatemala, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

But in this case, the story goes on. Bobby and his wife Lisa will be wearing our team t-shirts again this January when our organization arrives in Guatemala once again to do what we do best; caring for the medical, surgical, dental and prosthetic needs of rural women and children. I've lost count of how many team t-shirts Bobby has worn but I know it is over a dozen. His trips in between teams to attend to the needs of former foster children in Guatemala have lead to quite a few more airline landings in Central America. He and Lisa have packed medical supplies, loaded trucks, escorted foster children internationally and provided medically fragile foster care to many of our Guatemalan patients. 
Bobby would be the first person to tell you that our entire organization is made up of people just like him. People who give up time, money, vacation leave and resources to make sure that our patients in Guatemala get quality medical care. And he would be right. 
A donation of any size helps us restore health to some of the most medically 
fragile people in Guatemala, because people like Bobby make sure we don't have to use financial donations to cover administrative costs. Our participation in the GoodGiving Challenge this year is ending in two days. 
Thankfully, our time with volunteers like Bobby continues. 
To learn more about how you can help, click the link below. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

When a Part of You is Missing

Children of the Americas is not just busy in the final months of the year, when we are preparing for a surgical/medical/dental team. Our board stays involved throughout the days, which become weeks and then months and suddenly it is "Team Time" once again.

There are board meetings to prepare for and attend, supply procurement and packing to do, and many, many bits of conversations, written correspondences, and quarterly reports to attend to. Crates to pack, flights to book; Excel lists to create and check off; medications to order; t-shirts to order; badges to get the idea. Taking 100 + volunteers to Guatemala is a major undertaking. The emails are incessant, time consuming but vital.
One of those recent correspondences came from an American physician volunteering in Guatemala named Bill. He found Children of the Americas through our website. Bill had a request for assistance from our organization, not for himself, but for a teenager named Juan who is missing a leg following surgical amputation from a cancer diagnosis. 
Without medical insurance, social services or affordable prosthetic labs, amputees in Guatemala live a life of very limited potential. In a country where physical labor is often the only source of income, limited mobility can have severe social and economic implications. The most sought after donation we bring on our teams are mobility assistance items; wheelchairs, crutches, and splints. Most valued of all are prosthetic legs. Unfortunately, they are also the most expensive item for our organization to provide. 
Children of the Americas is participating in the GoodGiving Challenge until December 12th. Our fundraiser comes at an important time as we prepare for our next surgical/medical and prosthetic team in Guatemala from January 17-22. 

The request came too late for Juan, who died two weeks after our email networking with Dr. Bill. We are comforted with knowing that his parents appreciated our efforts to help him. There are many more patients in Guatemala waiting for our help, like the boy on the left. Without an income, his mother has no hope of affording a prosthetic leg for her son, or even a comfortable crutch. 
The importance of your financial gift during this fundraising period is easy to define. 
It is simply life-changing. 
You are one click away from making a difference. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Inspired By One of Our Own

What you see below is a partial reprint of an article that was published in our Lexington newspaper, The Herald Leader, about our former board president, Carol Cottrill.
Yes, she is in a wheelchair.
And no, that doesn't stop her from working full time as a pediatric cardiologist, actively participating in her grandchildren's lives, serving on numerous boards throughout Lexington and serving as our Children of the Americas Board President for the last four years. Nothing has stopped Carol from traveling to our medical teams so that she could work a 14 hour day seeing Guatemalan children who needed her expertise.
Carol is the essence of  someone who is living a life of service, and she inspires others to do so. 

Our volunteers each have challenges of their own. We use our personal finances and non-paid vacation leave to travel to Central America every January so that we can offer medical and surgical care to the women and children of rural Guatemala. We leave behind spouses and children and we come home tired but inspired, not only by our co-workers like Carol but by our patients, who wait hours if not days to receive the medical care that is not available to them otherwise. 

Funding for the COTA teams is raised one dollar at a time. It never comes easy, but we are not used to easy: working in Guatemala, just like raising  the funds to do so, is a tremendous challenge. 
Children of the Americas is currently participating in the GoodGiving Challenge fundraiser. 

A donation to COTA during this fund drive will not only help remove the financial obstacles of doing our work, but it will have a direct benefit on children like Ana (R), who is awaiting our surgical donation for a cleft lip repair in January. 

Clicking on the link (above) will not only allow you to make a secure donation to COTA, but it will take you to our profile page of our board member profiles and administrative information. 
You donations will be even more important on Thursday November 13th at 11AM, which is the Banker's Challenge. 
A match pool of $15,000 will be available. Individual donations between $10 and $1,000 are eligible for a $0.50 match on every dollar donated until the $15,000 match pool is exhausted.
 We hope you will be inspired to help. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Children of the Americas partners with GoodGiving to Raise Funds

Years ago, one of the Children of the Americas board members was selected by a Lexington television channel to be interviewed by a newscaster about our program. The Let's Do Lunch program was a popular one here in Central KY, and the purpose is to give the viewer a "snack" version on a topic of interest. Our board member found the experience to be frustrating; Children of the Americas is a little organization with a big focus; it couldn't be explained in two minutes of airtime. 
Thanks to The Bluegrass Foundation, our program now has a complete and transparent profile available to potential donors. Everything a donor might want to know about Children of the Americas, from board member profiles to financial statements, is posted here:

We are very pleased to announce our participation in the GoodGiving Guide Challenge starting today! Funds raised will go toward our annual surgical, dental and medical teams, held every January in rural Guatemala. The GoodGiving Guide Challenge is an annual online giving campaign throughout Fayette County that benefits local nonprofits, like COTA, and is hosted by the Blue Grass Community Foundation and Smiley Pete Publishing. We are honored to be among the 155 nonprofits that were carefully screened and then chosen to participate. 

Why is our work in Guatemala so important? 

So that Manuel can get his cleft lip repaired

So that she and her mother could receive life-changing medication

And she can have her cleft repaired and a prosthetic provided.

Please consider a donation to Children of the Americas during this campaign. These photos are of real patients, all of whom have a true need for humanitarian assistance that is only available through the donation of our medical care in rural Guatemala. What a great chance for you to create a direct and meaningful change in the life of the patients who await our medical team in January. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

High School Latin Class and Guatemala

His name was Mr. Abner and he was in a word, formidable. Stately dressed and dry as toast, he stood in front of our ninth grade class and tried to inspire our Central- Kentucky-selves to see the wisdom in learning an ancient language that none of us could find use for. Most if not all of his reluctant students were only signed up for Latin Class because it was a requirement for the college tract. Without it, we knew we couldn't travel to the big cities and become college students. So we sat. Day after day learning word genders, noun cases, four verb conjugations and six tense formations.

Me, not so much.
In fact, very little.
As in, I had to repeat the class because I failed it the first semester.
A big fat D on my report card. I cried for days. 
I hated Latin class. I didn't understand it, not just in a small way but so much so that I truly thought something was wrong with me. I was terrified each and every day of Mr. Abner's class.

Fast forward to my first trip to Guatemala, in the year 2000. Exactly 25 years after my high school graduation the ball of fear in my stomach felt just like when I had to stand up in front of Latin classmates and recite words I barely understood.

But this time it wasn't just the language issues, it was bugs and heat and the responsibility of caring for pediatric patients without my usual nursing tools. I was 2,000 miles from home, working with people I had never met in a country I wasn't sure I wanted to be in and just like in Latin class, I was being pushed to my limits, both physically and emotionally. The food was strange (black beans for breakfast...really?), I didn't speak Spanish and worse, everyone else on the team seemed just fine. Once again, I was an odd duckling in a pond of gloriously blissful swans who were happily volunteering their week away while I lost weight and sleep. I was frozen in fear, determined that if I every made it home to the states, I would NEVER, EVER go back to Guatemala.

Soothing patients who have waited hours in line

 Anyone who has ever taken Latin Language class, challenged themselves with a fitness goal, or accomplished what seemed to be an impossible task, knows that it is the difficult times that grow us as people. Nobody ever grew wiser, emotionally deeper or spiritually stronger from eating hot fudge sundaes and watching endless days of reality TV. It takes moments like these (below) to reach down deep and grow yourself up.

Telling a mother of a cleft baby that her infant is too sick for surgery

Working in 100 degree operating rooms

Trying to stay organized in chaotic conditions
Pushing through the neck and back pain so that more dental patients can get relief 
Standing in sorrow with desperate mothers
These are the moments, the hours, the days on a medical Children of the Americas team that root us in the soil of personal growth. 

I struggled through Latin class, barely making it out with a passing grade. I'm still challenged  each time I go to Guatemala as are most of our COTA volunteers. There are always certain patients that are the hallmark of our week there, the ones that stand out, who we were meant to be there for. The ones that are difficult, and who we learn the most from. 
Performing surgery on scared children

Life has come full circle. I use Latin word derivatives often in my medical work, and I've come to value Mr. Abner and all he taught me, about not just language, but fortitude and overcoming fear. Our Children of the Americas colleagues keep going to Guatemala: Henry has flown over 60 trips, Rosemary over 25, I just finished my 18th. 
Each time we go, we know we will be overcome for a moment or a day, and that some particular patient will create within us the need to reach deeper than we thought we could. 
Which of course, is one of the best reasons to go. 

(The name of the well-meaning Latin teacher has been changed to protect his reputation)