As a summer intern in MEDLIFE at Ecuador I was given the responsibility of giving follow up visits to patients that MEDLIFE doctors had previously seen in mobile clinics. These patients have come from various communities and have been referred to hospitals in Riobamba because they have specific conditions that require seeing a specialist. One of the patients I was assigned to meet Byron BuÃ±ay, a two year old with a cleft palate who MEDLIFE met a year ago. MEDLIFE had found him in a very delicate and malnourished state as he was unable to naturally ingest food due to his condition; his case had once been a matter of life or death. MEDLIFE knew they had to do something to help, so firstly, they paid for his first restorative surgery.
When I first met Byron it was on the day of his medical evaluation in the Riobamba hospital, he smiled at me as if I was his lifelong friend and he offered me a genuine; adult-like handshake immediately after seeing me. As I introduced myself to his mother, my initial thoughts were that the little guy that I had just met seemed too mature, happy and healthy to be the two year-old cleft palate patient I had been told of. I was sure this couldn’t be Byron, and assumed it was his older brother.
I thought we were waiting for Byron to arrive, so in the meantime I asked this spirited toddler some basic questions one would normally ask a little one like him: What´s your name? How are you? How old are you? Excited, he answered my questions immediately while making very expressive hand gestures. At first I could not understand him and I figured he was speaking Quichua, like his mom and locals at his community did. I asked again, in case it was me that was misunderstanding what he was trying to say with so much emotion. He tried again, this time determined to answer my questions but only sounds came out of his mouth. Aware of my clear inability to understand what he intended to be explicit and eloquent responses; he finally gave up and smiled sympathetically. Suddenly I realized that the bold child that had greeted me with such vividness was the cleft palate patient I was waiting for, he had grown and gained weight since his last picture was taken in his first surgery but that was still unable to verbalize words due to his internal oral physiology.
I then joined Byron’s parents Elsa and RaÃºl in their long wait for the pediatric surgeon’s confirmation that he could be pre-admitted for surgery, the couple narrated the difficulties they have been through with their child’s condition and how desperate they were a year ago to find medical help for him. As Elsa recalled: “He was very skinny because he could not eat, breast milk used to come out through his nose every time I tried to feed him. We had to give him iron supplements through a pipette in order to counteract his malnourishment”. She could not be more grateful for the immediateness of MEDLIFE’s mobilization to help her find and obtain the specialized medical care her baby urgently needed.
She also told me that after MEDLIFE financially supported them in Byron’s first restorative surgery, the baby’s feeding difficulties relieved significantly as he was able to incorporate soft foods such as grains and bland fruits in his limited diet which had allowed him to gain around 30 pounds. No wonder I could not recognize him when I first met him! Even though he still had a long way to go in terms of achieving a full recuperation that would allow him to eat anything and articulate his first words, she could not have been more relieved that their child had been saved.
Byron´s father RaÃºl joined his mother and me as we talked just about everything including the land that they farm, the products that they sell in the market to earn a little bit of money on a daily basis and, what I did not expect was that he even asked about Puerto Rican politics! Encouraged by the non-stop conversation, he casually mentioned a small detail they had not told me before and what he described had been a “complicated morning” … It turns out that a day that should have been naturally emotional for any parent whose child will be soon submitted to surgery, became even more stressful than expected when the front tire of the car in which they were travelling blew up during their 4 hour journey and got them into a minor car accident. The Police showed up quickly and generously offered the family transportation to the hospital where I met Byron and his mom while his dad went into the ER because of minor bruises in his face and arms. Thankfully he received immediate medical help and was able to participate in his child’s preparation for surgery. Talk about a complicated morning!
Byron was successfully submitted to his second restorative surgery on the following day and spent the next 2 days in the hospital at Riobamba under rigorous medical care. I was given the opportunity to visit him and of course, he received me with a big bright smile. His strong parents could not find enough words to thank MEDLIFE for the medical and financial support that the organization had given them throughout the past year.
Byron BuÃ±ay is now recovering from his surgery in his community in the AlausÃ Canton, where I plan to visit him in a couple of weeks to track his progress. MEDLIFE will continue supporting Byron’s family in his follow up medical appointments in Riobamba until their doctor announces that he is ready for the third and hopefully final surgery that will fully close the upper roof of his mouth and allow him to articulate his first words.
I can’t wait to hear what this charismatic child has been waiting to say for so long. My best wishes for Byron and his beautiful family!