My Turn: Making a difference one patient at a time |

My Turn: Making a difference one patient at a time

Last summer Herlinda was a 19-year-old girl who lived in the backcountry of Guatemala. A team of Americans and Guatemalan locals traveled for a period of close to two months to post flyers and speak to village leaders for the purpose of finding those in need of corrective surgery for cleft lip palate.

Herlinda, who could just barely read, saw one of the flyers and took a very scary chance to change her life.

If you do not know about a cleft lip or cleft palate, let me give you a quick description. It seems certain vitamins are absent in many areas throughout the world, Guatemala being no exception. During a Guatemalan women’s pregnancy the lack of important vitamins in the backcountry areas of the country cause a horrible disfigurement in a newborns mouth and nose. This disfigurement is commonly called a cleft lip or cleft palate.

Herlinda was born with a bilateral cleft lip and cleft palate and was shunned repeatedly by both her family and those in her village because it was believed her deformity was some sign of evil. There were other indescribable abuses to Herlinda during her early years, and so she led a very hidden and sequestered life until she saw a Rotary flyer.

The flyer promised to correct the disfigurement, was surgically free of cost, and all one had to do was to travel to Antigua, the capital, by the end of June.

In late June of 2005, Truckee Rotary agreed to send two local nurses on a mission to Antigua, Guatemala. The purpose of the mission was for our local volunteers to join a team of Rotarians, doctors, nurses, and volunteers from all over the United States to perform cleft lip palate surgery. Mostly, the surgery was performed on young children, but in some situations surgery was completed on young adults.

And as chance would have it, Herlinda walked more than eight hours to the nearest bus station and rode a bus for an additional eight hours to arrive in Antigua all alone. She then met with two nurses from Truckee and a wonderful team of doctors and staff from all over the United States.

That meeting changed her life forever.

But Herlinda was not the only patient. There were almost 40 additional Guatemalans whose lives were changed that week.

Are there any volunteers this year? From July 20 to July 30 another mission will be conducted in Antigua, Guatemala. This year, Truckee Rotary is searching for two volunteers to travel to Antigua to complete a life-changing mission to help those suffering from cleft lip palate. Currently the team is seeking two individuals who can be:

1) Pediatrician

2) Orthodontist

3) PACU Nurse

4) Ward Coordinator: pediatric nurse or a nurse with pediatric experience

Or, beyond the medical staff, there is the Casa de Fe team. This group of volunteers works at the hospital and at the Casa de Fe convalescent residence. Their task is to help patients who have had surgery or are waiting for surgery.

This group entertains kids, plays with them while they are waiting to be called into surgery, and works in the kitchen. It is a heartwarming position for someone who loves kids and is good with a puzzle, coloring book or balloons.

Truckee Rotary has committed $6,000 to purchase medical supplies for this mission. Now all we need is two volunteers willing to pay approximately $950 in total travel expenses to be part of this mission.

If you are interested in this effort, visit and search for the “Faces of Hope Application,” where instructions on submission await.

And to all of those who have contributed to Rotary over the last year, thank you. You are making a difference.

Kevin C. Murphy was president of the Rotary Club of Truckee from 2005-2006.

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