Hearts in Motion: 4 Days, More Than 40 Surgeries

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By Melanie Schuman Rattigan

On my first trip to Guatemala with Hearts in Motion, I worked with a team focusing on orthopedic surgery. We hit the ground running.

The day after our arrival we started pre-screening surgical candidates in a tiny room of the clinic adjacent to Zacapa Hospital. Green walls, little natural light, little artificial light. The surgeons carefully evaluated patients and a surgery schedule for the next four days was taking shape.

A prosthetist came down to make artificial limbs -- a new project spurred by a desperate need. I first saw him making casts for a little girl -- she couldn't have been much more than 18 months old -- who burned both hands in a pot of masa.

(This is a food staple made of corn and often cooked at home to make a paste for tortillas). She was missing several fingers and soon the tears would be gone and she'd learn how to use her prosthetics.

Click here to see more photos from Guatemala

It was on this trip that I met two very special siblings -- Carla and Marlin Lopez. They both had severely bowed legs yet their five other siblings did not. They were generally happy children and mom Sonia was thrilled about the prospect of surgical correction, which is something the state health care system would not provide.

It was a long and complicated surgery and both could not be done in the same trip. Two doctors, a nurse anesthetist and an OR surgical tech operated on Carla, the older of the two. From a lay perspective, it was hammers, drills and chisels. I wasn't sure how I'd react having never witnessed surgery, let alone something so noisy to the untrained ear. It was fascinating. The surgeons knew there was a possibility that future corrective surgery might be necessary, but the following year she was thriving. She came to thank us that next October when her brother underwent the same procedure.

Clubfoot is another common ailment often correctible with surgery. But I met one special family that trip that we couldn't help. A mother and child both have dwarfism and the child's surgery was too complicated for our team to perform in Guatemala as it involved her knee and leg. In cases like this, the director Karen Scheeringa-Parra and the in-country H.I.M. volunteers work with doctors in Guatemala and the states to try and find a solution.

In just four days, over 40 orthopedic surgeries are usually performed. An additional day is needed for post-op rounds. Now there is a full rehabilitation clinic built by H.I.M. donations that operates year-round as well as a prosthetic clinic operated by the Range of Motion Project. The clinic has a full-service lab and uses recycled materials including gently used limbs and braces. Guatemalans would not otherwise have access to artificial limbs if not for organizations like this. Work continues even when the group returns home.

Melanie Schuman Rattigan is a coordinating producer for the FOX News Channel. Hearts in Motion is a non-profit 501 (c) 3, non-denominational organization that focuses on the needs of impoverished children and families. It's predominant focus is in Central and Latin America, but it also has several programs in operation in the United States. You can find out more information at www.heartsinmotion.org.