Meet the Patient: Biron Dakilema

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Elsa Dakilema waited in the fluorescently lit sterile hallway of the Riobamba clinic, sitting patiently in a row of chairs along with six other mothers. She has waited a long time, and finally, things are getting better.

She waited 30 minutes for her son Biron to get out of his speech therapy class, three hours on the bus to get him from their small community in rural Ecuador to the class in Riobamba, and three years for him to finally say his first word, which she said beaming with pride, was “mama.”            

Biron was born with no roof in his mouth. This birth defect has made it very difficult for him to eat and drink throughout his life, and seriously stunted his linguistic development.

“I felt happy when he spoke and I saw that he was recovering. I felt like anything was possible, I asked god for him to recover and he is with the help of the foundation (MEDLIFE), thank god.”        

Elsa first realized something was wrong with Biron right after he was born, when he wasn’t able to breast feed normally. She tried feeding him powdered milk, an expensive thing to buy for a poor farming family, but still the milk would come out of his nose. She was never able to afford to take him to a doctor, or to figure out how to navigate Ecuador’s confusing public healthcare system on her own, but she eventually figured out how to feed him as an infant by plugging his nose and pouring powdered milk into his mouth.

  As he got older, when he would try and eat solid food, it would get stuck in his nose. At close to age 3 he still was not able to properly pronounce any word.

“I have many hopes for him, but sometimes because of money it isn’t a possibility. I want him to be able to speak well and be normal with other kids,” said Elsa, as she sat on a bench near a fountain in a plaza in Riobamba after speech therapy.

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A vendor passed by selling espumilla, a typical street food in Riobamba made from fruit and cream, think eating straight merengue out of an ice cream cone. Elsa asks Biron is he wants one, he smiles and nods, this is how he communicates with his mother, nods and gestures.

“He doesn’t have any friends,” said Elsa, wiping Biron’s face, hopelessly trying to contain the mess he is making eating the espumilla. “It makes me sad, there are kids who make fun of him when he can’t express himself. What happens to a mother? When the kids make fun of him, when they mimic him, it is sad for me. What happens to him? It lowers his self-esteem. He feels shame. He feels like he is incompetent.”

When Elsa visited the MEDLIFE mobile clinic in Pagse, the small agrarian community she lives in, it was the first time Biron had seen a doctor. Since then Biron has had two surgeries and taken one month of speech therapy, 30 minutes twice per week.

MEDLIFE walked Elsa and Biron through the entire process, organizing and accompanying them to doctor’s appointments, helping them get the operations covered by public health care, paying for aftercare, stitches and medicine, as well as making reminder calls for speech therapy and meeting Elsa there each time to check in and follow up.

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During the long commute home, Elsa will dream about a better future for Biron. She hopes he will be able to speak normally, have friends, and study in primary school – though she doesn’t know where she is going to get the money for supplies.

All of the effort put into helping Biron is beginning to yield results, he is able to say some words, he can eat fairly normally now, but he still needs to have one more surgery to fully construct the roof of his mouth so that he can speak normally.

MEDLIFE is taking him to Quito, the largest city in Ecuador, to see a specialist and get that last surgery. After another surgery and continued speech therapy, the doctors believe he will finally be able to speak like a normal child.


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.