Maria and Jose have never been to the United States. In fact, they’ve never dreamed of traveling more than 50 miles from their small village outside Jinotega, Nicaragua. But this past September, they watched as their only daughter boarded an airplane destined for Valparaiso, Indiana – more than 3,000 miles away. It wasn’t an easy decision. Three-year-old Gela would be gone for almost six months under the care and supervision of people Maria and Jose had only known for a short time.
But this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and Gela’sonly chance at a bright future.
You see, Gela was born with a severe cleft palate, a gap in the roof of her mouth that never fully closed during Maria’s pregnancy. It’s a disfigurement that causes difficulty eating and speaking and sometimes leads to total hearing loss, due to frequent ear infections. But what ultimately makes cleft palate so devastating goes far beyond physical impairment.
In developing countries like Nicaragua, cleft palate is widely misunderstood. Its appearance can cause revulsion, anger, even fear in those who take heed of cultural superstitions. In rural areas, those born with this defect are sometimes labeled hont katiya or “devil-touched” and are ostracized for the bad luck they are said to bring. Labels like these are what threaten Gela’s future. She would have virtually no chance of attending school, marrying and having a family. Instead, people like Gela often lead a life of destitution as outcasts in their villages.
Maria and Jose were very aware the grim reality Gela would have to endure, so you can imagine their joy when they heard about Esperança’s free surgery event on the radio! Dropping everything, they traveled straight to Jinotega in hopes of giving their daughter a chance at a better fate.
But it was not to be… at least not yet.
The deformity was too extensive. As soon as our Dr. Retson laid eyes on Gela during the exam, he knew immediately there was no chance he could perform the surgery she needed in-country. To correct this sort of defect, Gela would need specialized equipment and care that only his hospital back home could provide. For many organizations, that would have been the end of the road.
But here at Esperança, there is always hope.
Ever since that day, Esperança and Dr. Retson have worked tirelessly to provide Gela. with the surgery she so desperately needs. Dr. Retson contacted American Airlines and received two tickets generously donated to her cause. We worked with officials in the U.S. and Nicaragua to secure the six-month visa required for the trip. Dr. Retson found a local host family willing to help and worked with his hospital board to donate space, equipment and supplies for the procedure.
One by one, everything needed fell into place, and I’m excited to report that just last month, the final piece, her visa, was finally approved. As I write this letter, Gela is in Indiana awaiting the surgery that will change her life – and it’s all because of the faithful support of friends like you!
It really is a miracle that a little girl living in rural Nicaragua could get this amazing surgery she needed, a procedure her parents would never have had access to, let alone be able to afford on their own.
This Thanksgiving we have so much to be thankful for. For people like Dr. Retson who go way above and beyond their daily work to reach out and change people’s lives. For our volunteers who spread hope throughout the world on a daily basis. And, of course, for faithful friends like you, whose support makes all of this possible.