Patient Story: Milagros Ponte

Milagros Ponte, known to her parents as “Milly,” kicks up clouds of dust as she runs up the rocky hill ahead. “Minnie!” she suddenly shouts, and scoops up a small black-and-white cat, who reluctantly puts up with the attention. Showing visitors around the small one-room house she shares with her parents, Milagros sounds much like any other 5-year old, proudly pointing out of her neatly arranged collection of Barbies and stuffed animals. An only child, she likes to play with her cat and neighboring children and help her mom water the flowers in their small garden plot.

milagrosBut Milagros, who lives in a high extension of the Virgen de Cocharcas community, was born with congenital auricular atresia — a birth defect that left her with only a partially developed ear on one side, and a small vestigial structure on her cheek. Though her inner ear was healthy, her hearing could be affected as she developed because the sound would not be able to travel into the ear canal.

Despite their humble circumstances, her parents have done their best to give her everything she needed for a happy childhood, sometimes going without themselves. “Life can be really sad here at the top of the hill,” says her mom Glorinda. “But at least now we have our own home, our own little plot of land. Sometimes we worry, but never in front of her. We just want a better future for our daughter, like any other parents.”

But when they tried to get Milagros’s ear corrected, they were stuck. They couldn’t afford to pay for the operation, and SIS, the state insurance for the poor, wouldn’t cover the procedure because it is largely cosmetic.

We already knew Milagros as the high-energy, happy-go-lucky little girl who always came running up to meet us when we visit her community. So when her parents asked us for help, the MEDLIFE follow-up team made a plan. 50% of the cost of Milagros’s surgery, as well as necessary medications, were covered by the MEDLIFE fund in order to make the operation a reality. She finally received the operation just two weeks ago, and is now back at school after staying home for a week to recover.

Even right after the surgery, she never lost her high spirits. “It hurt at first, but now I’m fine,” she says, smiling widely as she turns her attention back to playing with her toys. “She’s very brave,” says Glorinda. “She was so happy that she was going to get the operation, she didn’t even cry or complain.” In the operation, the extra tissue on her face was removed, and the fold covering her ear canal was opened. In a few years, she will have an additional surgery in which doctors will take cartilage from another part of her body and use it to form the outer structure of the ear.

For now, Milagros is looking forward to going back to school to play with her friends. “She’s very excited,” Glorinda told us. “She can’t wait to be able to use earrings.”


Hear it From MEDLIFErs

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Reya Seby
Western University

This trip motivated me more to pursue a career in the healthcare field so that I can use my resources to help those who need it the most, similar to MEDLIFE’s mission.

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Victoria DiCanio
University of Connecticut

It was most enjoyable to finish the hard work and see how big a difference a group of individuals can make. It was such an amazing experience.

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Anita Woo
University of Toronto

I enjoyed the mobile clinics the most, especially the dental and triage portions. I would definitely recommend a MEDLIFE trip, it was a great experience.

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David Saff
Maclay High School

The most enjoyable part of my trip was hanging out with the amazing group of kids I was with. I would highly recommend a MEDLIFE volunteer trip to others.

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Sydney Sansone
Nova Southeastern University

This trip made everything that I was learning in my public health courses come to life and immersed me in a new culture while also learning about medicine.

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Abygail Youmans
College of Charleston

Being involved with MEDLIFE is not like joining another club - its bigger than that. It is about joining a movement that seeks to help change people’s quality of life for forever.

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Emi Hofmann
University of Central Florida

Not only was I able to participate in a week long Mobile Clinic, shadowing doctors of all types of specialties including pharmacy, dentistry, gynecology, and more, but I was also able to learn about the culture and visit incredible places.

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Julian Takagi-Stewart
University of Toronto

One thing that I really loved about this trip was that MEDLIFE made sure that the volunteers got an understanding of the complexity of issues that lead to underprivileged people in communities outside of the main city

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Hannah Van Hofwegen
University of Ottawa

Whether it was basketball with the local kids, assisting the doctors, talking with families, building washrooms, holding babies, or spending time with the people who were on the SLT with me, this was an amazing opportunity that I would do over and over again.

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Isabelle Holt
Cornell University

I loved learning about the patients MEDLIFE has followed and how they offer real help to people with chronic/urgent conditions. It is amazing how the organization formed real connections with the communities.

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Valerie Lindeborg

Our family had the privilege of participating in multiple trips with Nick [founder] and his amazing staff. Their expertise made the trips unforgettable while instilling in my boys the fundamentals of good character: selflessness, compassion, and empathy.

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Harry Vildibill
University of Georgia

As an aspiring physician, MEDLIFE motivated me to further continue my goal of becoming a doctor. In fact, I enjoyed the Tanzania Service Learning Trip so much that I decided to go on another trip to Cusco, Peru.