Norma Evas lives in a small, remote village about two-and-a-half hours outside of Riobamba, Ecuador. Young Norma is only seven years old and is now in her third year of primary school. We first met her and her family at a MEDLIFE mobile clinic held in Pachamama, where she had her first check up with a MEDLIFE doctor. Norma was very shy, as many people are from her community; they are sometimes hesitant to receive medical care from people outside of their culture.
During Norma’s check-up at the MEDLIFE mobile clinic, one of the doctors discovered she had a potentially serious heart condition and would need to be seen by a cardiologist. However, Norma’s parents were reluctant to have her receive modern medical care because of their belief in alternative, spiritual kinds of medicine; they were concerned the doctors would do her harm. Norma seemed scared and did not understand what was going on.
Despite their initial objections, Norma’s parents were ultimately convinced to accept our help, and MEDLIFE brought her to the local hospital in AlausÃ. When her situation proved more intensive than what the local hospital had resources for, they transferred Norma to a larger one in Riobamba. There, Norma underwent several additional medical exams to assess her heart condition. However, her case proved so complex that she had to be transferred—yet again—to a hospital in Ecuador’s capital, Quito. It was there that she received her final diagnosis: Tricuspid regurgitation and patent ductus arteriosus.
Her disorders, congenital defects she had from birth, prevented her heart’s valves from closing properly, allowing blood to leak backwards against the direction it is supposed to flow. Left unattended, Norma’s conditions could have been severely damaging. A doctor told Martha, the MEDLIFE representative on Norma’s case that without the surgery Norma may one day go to bed and not wake up. She needed surgery to survive.
Norma’s family did not have any financial resources to fall back on when her condition was discovered. Coming from a large family, Norma is the seventh of eight children and money is very tight. An even greater obstacle was Norma’s parents’ lack of understanding the serious consequences of her disorder. It is important to note that Norma’s culture does not typically place importance on medical conditions that are not visibly pressing. Additionally, in their culture priority is given to tending to the agricultural work and to the sons of the family.
As a result of this, her parents provided very little support during the process; her mother accompanied Norma only to the first medical appointment, and her father stayed home to work and make money. Though it was difficult to garner the support of her parents, Norma’s saving grace was her twenty-four year old brother, Luis, who stayed by her side the entire time and took two weeks off from work to support his sister.
During their interactions with Norma’s family, MEDLIFE’s staff also discovered a history of fatal cardiac conditions. A check-up with Norma’s older cousin at a MEDLIFE mobile clinic had revealed an irregularity similar to Norma’s. Additionally, another cousin had passed away at eighteen years old; she died in her sleep, similar to what the doctors said could happen to Norma without an operation. Her family explained that they attribute Norma’s cousin’s death to spiritual reasons—that the mountains took her life.
Despite these hardships, Norma had her surgery the first week in September. During the operation doctors discovered an additional defect—a severe one, which was damaging Norma’s lungs. Both issues were addressed, and it was a successful surgery; her heart is now healthy and strong!
MEDLIFE helped Norma receive the medical care she needed from start to finish: her initial check up, the surgery, and other critical support like medicine and transportation to the hospitals. Norma is currently safe at home in her rural community, and will be returning to Quito for a follow-up appointment in six months, to which MEDLIFE will accompany her. We will be following Norma’s case and look forward to watching her continue to live a happy and healthy life.