On Thursday, April 5th 2018, the MEDLIFE Cusco team and a group volunteers representing four United States universities conducted a mobile medical clinic in the community of Ccasacancha, about an hour and a half outside of the city of Cusco, in the district of Ancahuasi. Although this clinic was the first conducted in Ancahuasi in 2018, MEDLIFE has been actively working within the surrounding communities for an over a year. What’s more, multiple patients in MEDLIFE’s atient follow-up program live within or nearby Ccasacancha. Towards the end of the day, as the clinic was winding down, Carmen, one of our MEDprograms nurses, asked me and a volunteer to accompany her in making a visit to one such patient and his family: Juan José.
Juan José is a thirteen year-old boy who lives in Ccasacancha with his parents and five siblings. Although Juan José was born a healthy boy, he sustained serious burns on his face, neck, and chest from an accident when he was four years old. When MEDLIFE first met Juan José and his family at a mobile medical clinic in 2017, the scar that had formed left him partially disfigured and had contracted to the extent that it prohibited him from being able to fully turn his head. The MEDLIFE doctor recommended that Juan José undergo a Z-plasty scar revision surgery, in which the surgeon would re-open the scar sufficiently for Juan José to regain mobility in his neck. However, it was not until Carmen made a visit to Juan José’s home that MEDLIFE discovered the true extent of the challenges he was facing.
Initially, Juan José’s father refused to let Carmen enter his family’s house or enroll his son into MEDLIFE’s patient follow-up program. However, Carmen persisted and continued to make periodic visits to Juan José’s house, offering to help him and his family.
After the fourth visit, Carmen was invited inside. Upon entering the house, she discovered that the family was living in destitute conditions and that nearly all of the family members suffered from chronic malnutrition. A big reason for this, Carmen found, was that Juan José’s father was an alcoholic and unemployed. This meant that the only income the family could rely on came from Juan José’s mother, who worked as a farmhand in an artichoke farm in the district of Zurite. The family’s financial situation had been made even more difficult when Juan José’s seventeen year-old sister, Ana Beatriz, found that she was pregnant. It was then that Carmen knew that MEDLIFE needed to do more than just ensure that Juan José received the surgery he needed. If Juan José was going to have a successful recuperation after his surgery, and his sister give birth to a healthy baby, the entire family’s living situation would need to be drastically improved.
After meeting Juan José and gaining his parents’ trust, MEDLIFE’s Cusco nurses, Carmen and Lis, made visits to the family, checking up on how they were doing, providing the family with basic medications, and ensuring Ana Beatriz received the prenatal care she needed. However, on the day of our mobile clinic, Carmen and Lis wanted to do more than make another routine visit, they wanted to give the volunteers and myself a firsthand look at the difficulties Juan José and his family were truly facing, and ask for help.
As Cynthia, a volunteer from Vermont Tech, and I followed Carmen down a dirt road leading away from our mobile clinic location, it was not long before Juan José’s house came into site. Juan José’s family lives in a house typical of the region: two small buildings, a kitchen and a storeroom/bedroom, made out of adobe bricks. Both buildings face each other and are and surrounded by a corrugated metal fence. When we arrived, Ana Beatriz opened the door and ushered us inside. She told us that both parents were currently out of the house but she and Juan José were both home. As I entered the house, I could see Juan José standing in the yard behind his sister, timid at first, but beginning to smile as he saw Carmen.
As Carmen greeted the two children in the house, she urged Cynthia and I to examine the conditions in which Juan José and his family lived. When we first entered the kitchen, Cynthia and I were blinded by the darkness inside. As our eyes adjusted to the darkness we could make out pots and pans placed on both the dirt floor, as well as atop a small, adobe stove, completely devoid of any stovepipe or ventilation. We turned our heads upward and found the entire kitchen ceiling caked with black tar from years of smoke filling the kitchen during mealtimes.
After seeing the kitchen, we walked across the yard to the family’s storeroom/bedroom. We climbed the wooden steps to the second floor where the entire family slept in one room. Inside we saw two large beds piled high with blankets and surrounded by clothes scattered on the floor. The walls and ceiling had been covered in a white plastic tarp to prevent water from leaking into the bedroom. While inside, Carmen pointed out to us that the beds that the family slept on were not mattresses, but large pieces of yellow foam set on top of wood pallets. Upon leaving the bedroom we began to truly comprehend scope of the challenges that Juan José and his family were facing at home.
Congregating back in the yard, Carmen indicated that Juan José and his family would greatly benefit from having their house renovated with shelves, paved floors, waterproof roofing and a new ventilated and fuel efficient stove. These improvements would not only ensure that Juan José has a safe and clean environment in which to recuperate, but that the rest of his family would enjoy a higher quality of life at home as well. Carmen and Cynthia shared a tearful moment together as they discussed what could be done for Juan José’s family.
Since that day at Juan José’s house, the new MEDLIFE chapter at Vermont Tech has been raising money to help Juan José’s family, and Carmen and Lis have continued to support the family through routine visits. Both nurses have continued to accompany Ana Beatriz to her prenatal doctor appointments and have been thinking of ways to further improve Juan José’s family’s situation. The two have even been talking to the family about the possibility of installing a family greenhouse, in addition to their much needed home renovations, in order to provide a means to grow healthy fruits and vegetables, and thus combat malnutrition. Back in the United States, Cynthia and the rest of the Vermont Tech chapter have already raised over $500 and hope to raise more in the near future to go towards extra costs associated with Juan José’s surgery and his house renovation. Through the continued collaboration between MEDLIFE staff and the MEDLIFE chapter at Vermont Tech, the goal of getting Juan José the surgery he needs and supporting his family with a safe home is already on its way to becoming a reality.