Solving Problems, Changing Lives

Alé van Scoyoc, 17, participated in a Partner for Surgery/ACPC surgical mission in Guatemala City in January 2018. With her father, she witnessed a successful cleft lip surgery. Alé spoke with the Canadian surgeon who did the procedure and learned of a medical tape that has been found to improve outcomes by preparing the muscles of the lip for surgery. Unfortunately, the tape is too expensive to be practical in Guatemala.

Alé returned home to Virginia on her own mission. She was determined to find a work-around that would make this important solution more widely available. She found a study on the procedure and dissected the information. The key was a stretchy tape that would pull the cleft lip together prior to surgery. Was there another kind of stretchy tape that would do the job more affordably? Athletes use stretchy sports tape to pressure-wrap injured wrists and ankles. Would strips of that inexpensive tape be suitable for cleft lip application?

Alé – still a junior in high school – made an appointment with a cleft lip specialist at Georgetown University to confirm that this material would solve the problem. He could see no reason why it wouldn’t work.

Alé and her father returned to Guatemala and were part of the medical mission with us in June. We visited the home of 2-month-old Esdras Tomas Herrera outside the town of Nebaj. Esdras was referred to the Partner for Surgery nutrition program at 15 days old. Babies must attain a certain weight before they can be eligible for corrective surgery. Esdras is thriving, thanks to special bottles and high-nourishment formula provided by the program and the loving care of his young mother and aunt.

Now his chances for a positive outcome are even better. Alé demonstrated how to apply the tape and, through an interpreter, explained its purpose. The baby’s mother practiced on him and herself so she could understand the concept and the procedure. The expression in her eyes wordlessly conveyed her relief, gratitude, and joy. It was a moment to witness. We left the family with a roll of athletic tape and new hope.

This is a profound example of how Partner for Surgery impacts lives – of the patients they serve, and the volunteers who help out. Alé will enter her senior year of high school in the fall, and looks forward to a career in medicine. She is a remarkable young woman poised to do significant work in the world, forever changed by her visits to Guatemala.

We can’t all be as impressive as Alé, but we can all find a way to help. Who knows what might happen as a result?

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