The Meaning of Partnership

I have already mentioned that Partner for Surgery lives up to its name by walking with patients through the long process of surgery and recovery. That sounds good. But there is nothing quite like seeing it for yourself. We were privileged to tag along with Health Promoter Aurelio Cordova as he made his rounds of home visits to check up on children who had completed surgeries for cleft lip and palate.

We stumbled along a rocky path to the home of two-year-old Pablo Abraham Sanchez. We found the whole family there, waiting to see their friend Aurelio. We could see the trust in that relationship. Pablo was born in the health clinic in Chajul and was referred to Partner for Surgery/ACPC almost immediately. With this condition, it is not as simple as just scheduling surgeries. A baby won’t be eligible for surgery until they attain a minimum weight, and nursing is a critical challenge with a cleft palate and lip. Aurelio enrolled Pablo in a nutrition program, providing special bottles and high-calorie formula. That made all the difference. Pablo had his first surgery at three months for his lip, and cleft palate surgery one year later.

Post-surgery follow-up can include referral for speech therapy. Little Pablo has already had four sessions. We watched as Aurelio assessed progress in his easy-going way. To Pablo it just seemed like a game, repeating words with exaggerated rolling r’s for instance. Pablo is doing well, and it is clear to see what that means for the entire family.

We were able to leave Pablo with a little gift. Partner for Surgery/ACPC has a small but dedicated group of angels who make blankets for infants and gift-bags for young children full of toys and goodies, with a very special hand-sewn bear tucked in the outside pocket. It was so sweet to see the reaction to this unexpected gesture.

The next day we visited the home of 4-year-old Sabdy Antonio Cruz Toma. Sabdy was the second child and first boy born into the family. When his mother saw his cleft palate and lip, she felt shame. When family and friends came by to celebrate the birth, she hid the baby away. She fell into a deep depression.

The case was referred to Aurelio and he offered the hope of surgery. But Sabdy’s mother was unable to provide the kind of support that was needed at that early moment. In stepped Sabdy’s grandmother, with the grit, grace, love, and determination required. She implemented the nutrition program and traveled with the baby twice to Guatemala City — a world away — for his surgeries.

Today, Sabdy is a healthy, thriving pre-schooler. It was challenging to get a picture of his mother, because she wouldn’t stop talking about what a smart little boy he is, how he loves school and his teachers love him, and the abiding gratitude she feels for Aurelio’s work and the generosity of Partner for Surgery/ACPC. It warmed my heart to see the honored place Grandma has in the family, and her special relationship with Sabdy.

Sabdy has plans. He wants to be a policeman, and he has already chosen the name of his first child. Pablo will be just fine, with his big brother ready to show him the ropes. There might be some mischief involved, and wouldn’t we hope so.

Two stories of two families changed forever that represent so many more successes. The concept is brilliant, the work is hard, and the dedication is constant. My friend Mykell says the health promoters are the heroes of Partner for Surgery/ACPC, and now I know why. But they are all heroes, really.

You can find out how to be a helping hero here.


  1. Ellen Davis-Zapata

    Once again you have tapped into the heart and soul of ACPC/Partner for Surgery. And into the brilliant help of Aurelio and all of the Promotores working so hard in Guatemala. This photo of Aurelio and the family members speaks to me about the relationship he has built with them. I have seen his quiet and confident manner of caring for the patients at jornadas and I’m so happy you have highlighted this.

  2. The pictures of Sabdy (if he’s the one in the blue button-down shirt) are wonderful. He looks so proud and determined. :)

  3. toni littlestone

    This is my favorite story yet, and I love them all!Thank you for bringing this to life with your beautiful photos.

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