More often than not, when a newborn baby is placed in its mother’s arms for the first time, a unique and even mysterious bond is formed. A brand new connection is created between a mother and her child.
This isn’t just some passing fancy; countless mothers have testified that in that singular moment, something deep within them changes forever. Instantly, they realize that they would go to any lengths necessary to protect the beautiful child in their arms. Maria Galvan, a 28-year-old Nicaraguan mother, formed one of these powerful bonds with her daughter Claudia, the moment she laid eyes on her.
But little did she know that only a month later, that loving bond would be put to the test.
Claudia was born at home in a single room, thatch-roofed house deep within Bosawas rainforest. According to the midwife, she was a perfectly healthy baby girl. But about a month afterwards, Maria noticed something was seriously wrong. Claudia never had a bowel movement. The midwife told her that she had seen this condition before, that Claudia’s life was in danger and that she needed to take her to a hospital right away. It sounds like a simple solution right? Well, for Maria, the closest hospital was on the other side of the Bosawas rainforest, the second largest rainforest in the Western Hemisphere. Maria had never been outside her own village. To save her daughter, she would have to travel over 375 miles through dense, dangerous, and unfamiliar jungle, carrying her baby every step of the way. It terrified her to think how far away that would be from everything she had ever known, everything that had ever given her a sense of safety and security. She would also be extremely vulnerable, just a lone woman with a sick child traveling into the unknown.
But despite her fears, her motherly bond with Claudia made the decision simple. The following morning Maria set out, hiking hour after hour through 24 miles of rainforest to the closest major river. From there, she took an 18-hour boat trip before finally arriving in the city of San Jose Bocay.
But her journey wasn’t over yet.
It turned out that the doctors in San Jose Bocay weren’t equipped to properly diagnose Claudia’s condition, and their only option was to refer her to a hospital in Jinotega – adding additional miles to Maria’s already exhausting journey. By the time she arrived in Jinotega, Claudia was severely dehydrated and in septic shock. It took several days of intensive care for Claudia to stabilize. Once she was stable, the doctors diagnosed her with rectovaginal fistula, a birth defect that leaves an open passage in the bowels. Unfortunately, none of the surgeons had the skill or expertise to properly treat such a condition. The best they could do for Claudia was keep her out of septic shock by performing a colostomy.
Happy that she was alive, but devastated by the fact that her little girl would always carry this burden, Maria set off on the long journey back home.
Six months went by before the stop-gap procedure failed. Claudia’s colostomy tube had become obstructed, and she began to descend again into septic shock. Maria could tell this solution was not going to work. She knew in her heart that her baby would not survive constant trips back and forth through the rainforest. It was only a matter of time before she would be forced to say goodbye to her little Claudia.
Maria prayed for the chance to save Claudia’s life, she wouldn’t accept defeat; she simply couldn’t give up on her daughter. Days later, she heard about Esperança on the radio and that we were going to be in her area with a surgical mission. So Maria set out in a race against time to the hospital in Jinotega.
Esperança had brought surgical volunteers to Jinotega that week to perform vital surgeries far above the capabilities of any local physician. Holding onto hope, Maria brought Claudia to one of our best surgeons, Dr. Daniel Custer, for evaluation. After a thorough examination, he scheduled Claudia for immediate surgery. He not only cleared the colostomy, he was able to remove it altogether because he was also able to mend the rectovaginal fistula that was causing all of Claudia’s problems in the first place.
Maria couldn’t believe that the nightmare was finally over. Dr. Custer had fully cured her daughter and, in doing so, given her a bright new future! After a few days of rest and some teary goodbyes, Maria set off on her final journey – to return home with her healthy baby girl. Without a doubt, Maria is an amazing mother who went to great lengths to save her child.