Saturday, December 30, 2006


First, another Merry Christmas to everyone. We are continuing our Christmas tour of the U.S. We've been in Cary, North Carolina for the last few days with plans to return to Salisbury soon. Heidi's dad is feeling better and we're hoping to spend a few more days there this coming week.

We've gotten our sports fix so far with a Michigan State basketball game (win), a North Carolina basketball game (win), a Carolina Hurricanes hockey game (win), and we have another Carolina basketball game and another Carolina Hurricanes game on tap for tomorrow.

Thanks to everyone's generosity this year (our families and friends are awesome!) we'll be bringing some great Christmas loot back to Guatemala. We have lots of money and meds that have been donated to Agape In Action (Merry Christmas to the people of Guatemala), a heated mattress pad and some flannel sheets, some books, a new Palm Pilot for Heidi, a boatload of DVDs and a DVD player, some iTunes credits, and lots, lots more.

We'll also be taking BACK to Guatemala something we brought with us but didn't tell you all about. As of tomorrow, we will be 11 weeks pregnant! Our due date is in July 2007. Thanks to our friend, Dr. Marcy Powell, we have an ultrasound picture to share with you. That will be the first one you see below. How you can look at one of those and not believe in God is beyond us. We got to see him/her move around today and it was amazingly touching!

The second picture below is of our beautiful new niece, Della Scott Michael (Heidi's sister's daughter). The third pic is of her big brother, Boone, playing with his Guatemalan drum stick (it came with a drum, but the box looked more appealing at the time - go figure).

And the fourth pic is of Heidi practicing her baby-carrying skills with the closest available baby(with Della Scott's mom and grandmother looking on/preparing to catch if the rebosa doesn't work according to design!)

Well, that's about it for today. And if we don't "talk" again before then, Happy New Year!!!

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Christmas in North Carolina

The morning after Christmas, we met up with Heidi's brother and sister-in-law in Cleveland, Ohio and drove to Salisbury, North Carolina (about nine hours). Yesterday, we had Christmas with Heidi's parents, brother, sister and all of their families.

It was our first time to see our new niece, Della Scott, who is about three months old now. And it was great to see how Boone is growing - he's now a year and a half old. It seems like just last week we were here for his baptism!

The bummer is that the men in the family seem to all be sick - Eddie (Heidi's dad), Daryl (Heidi's brother), and Jeff (Heidi's brother-in-law) are all sick. So we're skipping town today to go see Heidi's aunt in Raleigh a few days early.

And at the risk of offending anyone in our family (who are all GREAT gift-givers), some of the best news we've gotten on this trip came yesterday via an email from our friend Ernest Braren. It seems that our container has been approved for shipping!!!! We loaded this container with medical supplies and all of Matt's recording equipment back in May and now it seems it will be arriving in Guatemala shortly. THANK YOU to everyone who has worked on that, especially Ernest!

Well, we gotta run. We're fleeing the mystery bug that's got everyone laid out here in Salisbury. Pray we don't catch it and bring it back to Guatemala!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to everyone! We are here in Cleveland, Ohio at Matt's sister's house. We've been in this area of the country for about a week and a half now. We leave in the morning to spend about a week and a half in North Carolina with Heidi's family.

Yesterday we got a chance to visit Parkside Church and see Alistair Begg preach ( We download his sermons everyday on iTunes in Guatemala and listen to them in the truck on our way to clinics. Since we're in clinic every Sunday, it's really the only church we get (besides our weekends at the Ficker house - which is just like church, really).

The reason we celebrate Christmas is because the birth of Jesus signaled a change in the cosmos. It literally split time in half - not just on our calendar, but in reality. After The Fall, God's people waited for thousands of years for the promised Messiah. And on one morning about 2,000 years ago, He came. That's why we celebrate.

But HOW we celebrate is also fun. We get our families together, exchange presents (to represent the awesome gift we all got on this day), and eat yummy food. Of course, kids love it the most. That's why almost all of our pics today are of our two and a half year old niece, Sophia.

The first picture is of the Christmas tree. The second is of Sophia playing with her doll toys. She got a whole big set of toys for her new baby doll (a crib, a swing, a bouncer, a high chair, and a stroller - just the normal stuff every baby doll needs!). Note her Guatemalan dress and slippers...

The third pic is, well, apparently more of the same. Oops. Oh well.

And the fourth pic is of Sophia with her new kitchen - just like Mommy's! You wouldn't believe this thing. It has dishes, food, appliances, a microwave, a stove, an oven, a fridge, plates, working lights, etc.

Have we mentioned that she's not only unbelievably cute, but impossibly brilliant? A completely unbiased and clinic diagnosis, of course....

Anyway, hope you all had a great Christmas and took a few minutes to thank God for the most wonderful gift ever - salvation.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sports and assorted other stuff

No, we don't have a TV in Guatemala. It's not that bad, really. The only thing we really miss is sports. We can get scores and highlights online, but it's not the same as watching. So tonight we went to our second live sporting event here in the US and we've got two more to go.

Last Tuesday, we went to Michigan State vs. Belmont basketball in East Lansing, Michigan. Tonight we were at the Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Detroit Pistons game in Cleveland, Ohio. And we've confirmed that we're going to see University of North Carolina against Dayton (basketball) in Chapel Hill, NC and Carolina Hurricanes vs. Philadelphia Flyers (NHL hockey) both on New Year's Eve! WOO HOO!

In mission news, we've been so fortunate to receive a few more donations from folks who want to support the work we're doing in Guatemala. It is so humbling to realize that God is moving peoples' hearts to support the work He is doing through us. It's His mission, we're just the hands. And we are so lucky to have such great friends and partners both in the United States and in Guatemala. Not to turn this into a sermon, but we have found that when you follow God, things always turn out better than you could have planned. And when you mess up (which we do from time to time), He is always there to help clean up. What an awesome God we have!

Tomorrow, we get to babysit our beautiful niece, Sophia. You'll see her pic below. And speaking of pics, the first one is of us giving a presentation at Matt's parents' church in Temperance, Michigan.

The second is of Matt's sister, Catherine, and Sophia. (We left out the one where she's making her "monster face" - maybe next time!)

The third pic is Dr. Layman and his office staff with some of the sunglasses they donated to us. They took a bunch of the discontinued frames they had laying around and had dark glass put in. When you're at 6,000-10,000 ft elevation and 15 degrees latitude, people need all the eye protection they can get!

And the last pic is of us at Breslin Center, where Michigan State had just won another home game. Go State!

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Our Friend

Our friend, Matt Brouwer, has been nominated for two Shai Awards: Artist of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year. Shai Awards are Canadian Christian Music awards. Please visit Matt's myspace page, read his blog entry entitled "Shai Awards Nominations" and go vote for him.

He is a super neat guy, very mission-minded (is planning yet another trip to Guatemala this spring), and amazingly talented! We're very lucky to know him and to have him associated with Agape In Action.

You can find his myspace page at:

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Another Great Sunday

This Sunday we were at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Temperance, Michigan - Matt's parents' church. We had the opportunity to speak in the fellowship hall between services and shared over 100 pictures and some of our favorite stories.

This congregation has been so supportive of our mission with gifts of over-the-counter medicines and cash, so it was a great opportunity to thank them and show some pictures of where their donations have gone.

We got some news from the Fickers this week about their plane. Apparently, the estimate for repair is in the $50,000 neighborhood. We know that God didn't send this plane down just to take it away, so we are sure He'll help us find the money. We also know that He's going to come through in a really neat and wonderful fashion and we can't wait to see it!

Yesterday, we had the chance to go hang out with Matt's Uncle John, Aunt Sue, cousins Denise and JoAnn and their families, as well as Matt's paternal grandparents. Today, we had all four grandparents down, as well as Uncle Dave and Aunt Carol and family friend, Rosemary. This time of year is a great time to spend with family and we've been very blessed to see much of Matt's family so far!

The pictures below are to remind you about the Fickers' plane. The first two are the plane in its original condition in their hangar. The second two are after the crash. Please join us in thanking God for the safety of Duane, Aaron, and Joe, who were in the plane when it had its accident. Also please join us in praying for the resources to help repair this plane and get it back flying again - and bringing medical supplies and the Gospel to the people in the Ixcan area.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Great News

As we continue our month-long visit to the United States, we are continually struck by the love and generosity of the people here. We have long known that Americans are the most generous and caring people in the world. After September 11, over a billion dollars were raised to help the families affected there. After the tsunami in Indonesia, hundreds of millions of dollars were raised. After Hurricane Katrina, entire cities and states joined in the effort to help.

Americans get a bad rap in the media and in the world, but we continue to show, time and time again, that God is alive and well here. Nothing else could explain the outpouring of love.

Our fundraising efforts so far have been successful to a level that only God could provide. Our main focus on this trip has been to raise awareness about the people we work with and minister to and to raise money for surgeries and to help repair the Fickers' plane. (They have a plane they use to help bring medical supplies and the gospel to people who are essentially unreachable any other way. They sustained serious damage to their plane in a "hard landing" a few weeks ago.)

We completed the first leg of our trip yesterday, leaving Houston for Cleveland, Ohio. We are taking a few days to relax with Matt's sister, brother-in-law, and beautiful 2-year-old niece. Then we'll go to Michigan to visit Matt's parents and speak at their church. The church there has already been very generous, providing us with over the counter meds and nearly 2,000 glucose test strips (for diabetics). Our visit there will be to thank them and show them some of the places their generosity has touched.

After Christmas, we'll be headed to North Carolina for some time with Heidi's family and to meet with several doctors there who are our "online safety net". We've had several "email consults" that have been very helpful from this group of doctors there.

Then it's back to Texas for a day before heading home to Guatemala.

Please pray for Maria, our patient who is dealing with breast cancer in the midst of a pregnancy, and while breastfeeding her youngest baby.

Please also pray for Martina, the little girl the Fickers have taken in. She is mentally disabled and suffered severe burns when she seized and fell into her family's fire a few years ago. In the last few weeks, she has been losing her appetite and has been very sick. She was taken to the hospital in Quiche last night and we don't know exactly what is wrong with her.

Also, please continue to pray for all of our cleft palate patients, who are trying to gain weight this month to increase their chances for a good outcome on their surgeries in January.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Another Busy Day

Something in the back of our minds keeps telling us that we're on vacation, but that little voice is nowhere to be heard when the alarm clock goes off. This morning, we were up before the sun again and headed out to accomplish a few more things.

We drove to Beaumont, Texas to meet with Amber and Amanda at State Farm Insurance and work out a few details there. They have always been so sweet and so supportive and it was neat to hear that they are some of the (seemingly) many readers we have here. Just about every time we start to get discouraged and think that only our immediate families are reading this, we hear about someone else who is. Please don't be afraid to drop us a line and let us know you're out there - your presence is very encouraging to us!

Then we headed to Orange to (sadly) close an account Matt has had for over 10 years at the local credit union. They've always been so nice to work with, too, but since they don't have a branch office in Guatemala....

Then we got to have a cup of coffee and catch up with Matt's friend, Ken, who he's known since high school. They were roommates in college and have been workmates at DuPont for several years. Lots of stories and catching up to do there.

After that, it was off to Nederland, Texas, to return some borrowed musical equipment to Jared, Matt's keyboard player from the last few years on the road. Jared is, without a doubt, the most talented keyboard player in this area - and a very promising producer, too.(

Following that, it was a run back to Beaumont for some WAY overdue Chik-Fil-A and some time with Billy McQueen, Matt's old drummer/roommate, and to meet a new friend, Ali. With any luck, we'll get to see Jared, Billy, and Ali in Guatemala this spring. Also, Billy owns a company that makes custom drums, so if you want to have the best sounding kit in your town... (

Then it was to China, Texas, to hang out with Todd Howard and his folks for a little while. Todd and Matt have played together in several different bands over the course of probably six or seven years. Todd is an amazing guitar player, definitely the one you would call if you ever wanted a guitar solo. He's touring with the Kaiser Brothers Band now and you can find him online, too. (

After that, we went to Kingwood, Texas for a too-short visit with the Hammond family. Matt has spent at least the last five Christmases with them, so this year will be a little different, but we'll see them again on January 4th, as we come back through.

And, finally, we got to The Woodlands for dinner with Dr. Jim and Kathleen Street. We shared stories and pictures and memories for what seemed to be about five minutes. The next thing we knew, it was after 11pm and we had to get back to the Shaw's house!!

Tomorrow, no alarm clock. It'll be the first time in a week. We just have a bit of banking, a much anticipated lunch to meet some more new friends, and then dinner with Dr. and Dr. Hollier. Mrs. Dr. Hollier was Heidi's program director at University of Texas-Houston and her husband is a pediatric plastic surgeon.

Heidi is feeling a bit better, but all this running probably isn't helping. Please pray for us to get a little downtime and for her to continue to improve. And be sure to thank God (as we do) that we have so many awesome friends that we're willing to beat ourselves up to see as many of them as we can!!!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Awesome Day!!!

Last night, Heidi and Matt parted ways for the third time since June. No kidding - we actually spend that much time together! Heidi went out in Houston with some of her friends from residency and Matt went to Orange to play with some guys he used to tour with. We both had an awesome time, even if we were a little disappointed to both be date-less.

Heidi got home at a decent hour and got some sleep. Matt rolled in at 4:30am and woke up at 6:30am to go to church. We were fortunate enough to get invited to speak at two different Sunday School classes at The Woodlands United Methodist Church. Both of these classes were incredibly supportive of the cleft palate kids and we wanted to tell them THANK YOU and let them know a little bit more about what we do.

We weren't really sure what to expect, never having been to this church. It is absolutely astounding how HUGE this church is and how amazingly beautiful! And the people there are so incredibly on fire for the Lord! They ministered to us more than we could have ever ministered to them. They were very interested to know what we're up to and were so loving and caring that we felt very much a part of their family.

Lunch was with Carrie and Dr. Lambert. Dr. Lambert has been a great friend of Agape In Action's throughout the years and we had heard so much about him but had never met him in person. He is even nicer and more of a Godly man than we had even been told! What a privilege to work with people like him.

This evening, we had another amazing opportunity to speak at Ecclesia Church in Houston. This is a really neat church we had attended just before we left Houston. It's a very artsy, progressive, "community"-type church and we have always really felt like we belonged there. And we got to hear Chris Seay preach and his brother, Robbie, sing - two things we have missed in Guatemala. We've had to make do with reading Chris's books and listening to Robbie on our iPod.

So, tomorrow, we're back to Beaumont and Orange to finish up some business we couldn't get done on Friday due to a busy schedule and too much traffic. But it's all good - we're hoping to see some more friends before we come back to The Woodlands for dinner with Jim and Kathleen Street!

Yes, things are very different here in the U.S., but when you're surrounded by people of God, they're very much the same, too.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

100TH POST!!!!

This is our 100th post on this blog and, fittingly, it's about life and miracles and answered prayers. Just not in Guatemala. It's okay, God is relatively international.

Our dear friends, Russell and Bethany Leatherman, have just had their first baby - Tye Maddox Leatherman - here in Houston, Texas.

Yes, we are now in the U.S. for Christmas and New Years. It's a long way from our new home and it's a long time away, but it's nice to be able to relax and spend some time with family and friends.

We've already spent some wonderful quality time with the U.S.-based team from our mission group, met with both of our former work groups, met with a team of doctors that is going to come down in June, and had some yummy American steaks.

Tonight, Heidi is going to go out with some more of her old work buddies and Matt is going to go play with some guys he used to tour with.

Tomorrow we have two Sunday School classes to talk to in The Woodlands and are going to have lunch with Dr. Lambert, who we've worked with a bunch but have never met in person.

Also on the docket for this week, before we leave for Ohio and Michigan, is another meet-and-greet lunch, dinner with Dr. and Mrs. Street, and some more hang-out time with friends!

So we leave you this time with some very cute pictures of Tye with both Mommy and Daddy - and, no, we're not sure what his expression means in the second pic!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Can You Believe It?

This is our 99th post. We'll probably make #100 either from Guatemala City or Houston. Wow, how time flies!

We got the awesome news that Bethany and Russ Leatherman (our bosses, in a manner of speaking) just had their baby yesterday! His name is Tye Leatherman and everybody is doing great. He doesn't know it yet, but he is the answer to about a zillion prayers!

We had our last clinic of the year this morning. Paul and Lindsey were there to help us. It's amazing how much help it is to have two more medical people (and native speakers) along. This will be our last clinic here in Quiché for the time being, too. Those who need further help have been referred to our other clinics. This was not a large clinic and we (along with God) are planning some new adventures in the coming year. We'll certainly keep you up to speed on those!

Paul and Lindsey, for those of you who don't know, are Guatemalan medical students that our organization is helping through medical school. They live here in Quiché but go to school in Quetzaltenango. Their school year basically follows the calendar year, so they are "off" this month and will cover a few clinics for us while we're gone. Thanks to our computer, we will have all of the clinic information at our fingertips when we come back, too. How neat!

Heidi is still sick as a dog. She can't sleep more than an hour at a time with all the coughing and congestion and nothing seems to help. Please pray for her to feel better for our trip home. Travelling is hard enough already without being sick on top of that.

We are just about done packing and will head to The City in the morning. Our calendar for the upcoming month is pretty full and we hope that many of you are on it! Our first few days are in Houston where we'll be meeting with our associates there, attending some churches, giving some presentations, hanging out with some friends, and Matt's even going to get a chance to play.

The next leg of the trip takes us to Ohio and Michigan to visit Matt's family. We'll attend a few more churches, give some more presentations, go to a Michigan State basketball game, and whip Heidi's brother Daryl in trivia.

The day after Christmas, we'll DRIVE with Daryl and his wife, Erin, to North Carolina for Christmas with Heidi's family. We'll meet some more friends there, give some more presentations, maybe go to a North Carolina basketball game and maybe a hockey game, too.

Then it's back to Houston and back to Guatemala where we'll meet the cleft palate families in Antigua for a few days of surgery. We promise lots of pictures from that trip!

Anyway, that's probably it from this end before we arrive in the U.S. Pray for us to have an uneventful trip (that's the best kind!)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Late Night Calls

It's always terrifying to receive a late night phone call. It's hard to believe that your mind can process so many possible scenarios between two rings of a telephone.

The call was from a dear friend in the United States sharing news of a medical problem. The good news is that it's probably nothing serious or permanent. The bad news is that it's extremely scary, very annoying, and it's happening to a close friend - a sister in Christ.

Please include this friend of ours and her family in your prayers today. Yes, we're grateful that she's in the United States and can get the best medical care in the world. But that doesn't alleviate the "freak out" factor very much when it's happening to you! She has had a rough run of it lately and we pray that it's all nearing a very positive conclusion.

Lots of prayers headed from south to north this morning and we hope you'll join us. God knows who it is!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

More Stories

We shared with you a few days ago the few details we had about the problems with the Fickers' plane. And that was basically all we knew until we saw them this weekend.

After the "hard landing", they took a few days to leave town and regroup spiritually. So we hadn't talked any. So when we arrived at their house Saturday morning for clinic, we had lots of things to share with each other.

Duane, Aaron, and Joseph had flown up to Ixcan early last week to scout out the landing strip we were hoping to use for this weekend's planned clinic. They had spoken with several people there regarding the condition of the runway and heard that other planes were using it. They even circled a few times to check it out. Everything looked fine.

They came in and touched down with the perfect airspeed, set the entire plane on the ground, then went for the brakes. The second Duane hit the brakes, the front landing gear snapped, dumping the nose of the plane onto the ground and dropping the (still spinning) propellers into the dirt. The plane came to an abrupt halt.

At that point, about a hundred villagers (not an exaggeration - read on) came running out to the plane to check on them. Everyone was fine, but the plane is BADLY damaged. The engines cannot be reused until they are disassembled and have the shafts checked. The props are trashed. The landing gear is trashed. And the nose of the plane has a serious amount of body damage. And, at that point, the plane was still sitting in the middle of the runway.

So the hundred villagers literally lifted the front of the airplane up and carried it about 4,000 feet to a safe storage spot away from the runway. That's where it sits now, awaiting some help. It looks like the Fickers will have to drive their dump truck and a flat bed up to the plane, take it apart, cart it back to Canilla in pieces and start tearing engines apart. This will require some help and we're not exactly sure where all that is going to come from yet.

Anyway, that was their story. God's hand was evident in every piece, though, from the safety of the guys to the willing help of the locals, who desperately need medical attention.

So then we started clinic. One of our early patients (whose picture we'll spare you) had been badly bitten by a dog on her way to clinic this morning. We worked on her hand for quite some time, and it turned out that she decided that whatever she HAD been coming to clinic for wasn't such a big deal - she only wanted treatment for the dog bite. Good thing Heidi's a surgeon! This woman had walked about two hours to get to us and was still shaking when she got there - she was pretty upset - but we think she'll end up being okay.

We also saw our friend who is pregnant with her third child (two prior C-sections) and concurrently with her pregnancy, has a massive abdominal hernia. The way this normally works is that the baby is inside the uterus, which is inside the abdominal wall. In her case, less than a centimeter of skin and uterus is between the baby and the world. Her skin is stretching so badly that it's beginning to tear. We (with the help of Dr. Hoak) had provided her with a support brace she could wear to help hold the baby in and provide some protection for that skin. She refused to wear it, saying that it hurt too badly. So we tried giving her some ACE bandages for support, which we think she's going to use. But her sister called last night saying that she was starting labor (maybe), which wouldn't be good because she's only about 34 weeks, which is still WAY too early around here. Please pray for her.

We got to spend the rest of the day working around the house with the Fickers and sharing some wonderful spiritual recharging time with them - just like usual. Aaron spent a few minutes with our truck and helped us determine that we have two bad glow plugs (out of four), which explains why it's very hard to start in the morning. Luckily, we were planning to have those replaced in a few days anyway. We also got to help adjust the pH of their tilapia pond, change out some bushings under their 4Runner (roads here are very hard on suspension systems), and start decorating for Christmas.

This morning, we headed out to clinic in San Andres, somewhat sad that we won't see them for 5 or 6 weeks now, but so thankful for their friendship, prayers, and support. In all of the tough times they're now facing, they spent so much time encouraging us. Amazing thing, the love of God.

The woman pregnant with the anencephalic baby (the baby will be born without a brain - and therefore will die very, very soon) came back today. Remember we told you that her husband left to work on the coast two days before her diagnosis. Also remember that she has never been to a church and doesn't even know anyone who goes. We grabbed Mateo, the dad of our two translators, and he ministered to her for about 20 minutes this morning in K'iche (the only language she speaks). Please pray for this awful experience to at least function as a gateway through which God can enter her life.

We also saw our typical blend of malnourished kids, completely uncontrolled diabetics (one who we had given a glucometer to and just had it stolen from her this week), infections, rotten teeth, babies with diarrhea (which can kill children here), and people who really just needed some ibuprofen and tums.

During the morning, though, a friend of the Fickers', a man named Rodi, came by. He has had several prophetic visions about the Fickers before and today was no different. He had been told by God last night that an attempt had been made on Duane's life and that God was going to send people and money to help repair the plane. He didn't know about the crash. So he told Leslie he had "some words to share" but didn't know what they meant. She told him about the crash and he was visibly startled and amazed. We live in a strange world. There are spiritual events occuring all around us that we don't get to see, but occasionally get to hear about. We know that The Enemy is not happy about this plane being here because he knows how we're going to use it. But we know that our God is stronger and will prevail. So we pray that help will come, just as Rodi has told us he knows it will.

Anyway, we have three more days here in Guatemala before we leave for a month. We're very excited about seeing our friends and family, but it's going to feel very strange to not be in this place that we have come to love very deeply. The affluence in the United States is going to seem very obvious to us, we're sure. It's familiar to us in so many ways, but things that we took for granted before will suddenly seem very... well.... different.

Ah, pictures. The first is Matt holding a child we treated in clinic yesterday for some minor ailment we can't seem to remember. It's hard to tell from this picture, but he had the most infectious smile! And it was nice to see a chubby one, too!

The next picture is of three girls whose mother we treated in clinic today. The oldest was caring for the two younger ones while we had Mom on the exam table and we just couldn't resist the picture!

The last two are of a truck we followed part of the way home today. In the first pic you can see the general state of the roads here. This is why a 20 mile drive can take two hours. In the next pic, you'll see all of the people and stuff they managed to pile into (and onto) this truck. He was making about 5 mph and was probably 15 miles from the closest town, which may not have been his final destination!

Okay - tomorrow is laundry, packing, and lots of last minute stuff to get done here before we leave. Tuesday is our last clinic of the year, and Wednesday we leave for the City.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Clinic Day Thursday

Thursday was clinic at ASELSI. The truck still didn't want to start, but it acts like it has glow-plug issues. (When it's cold, good luck - but once the truck is warm, it'll start easily.)

After FINALLY getting the truck started, we got down to ASELSI for clinic. It looked like they were giving away free...well, medical care. A team from Dallas, Texas was there to help out for the day and apparently the word was out. There were people EVERYWHERE!!!

Heidi and I saw about 30 (mostly) prenatal patients while some of the other Texans (we still count) saw kids and non-prenatal adults. They also brought an ultrasound tech who coached Matt through his first ultrasound exam. Heidi makes it look so easy! If only those babies would stop moving for just a second!

We didn't get done with clinic until nearly 2pm, by which time we were starving. Luckily, the kind folks at ASELSI had made a spaghetti dinner for the health care workers. Yes, we know our patients go much longer without food than we can - they are clearly much tougher than we are!

We stopped at the grocery store on the way home to pick up diapers, formula, and assorted other goodies for the cleft-palate kids' trip to Antigua in January. We won't be here when they leave, but we'll fly in just in time to meet them there in Antigua. Sharon at ASELSI will be getting them on the bus and we want to make sure they're well supplied when they leave.

We also picked up some beans, rice, formula, and vitamins at the grocery store for our good friend, Regina, the mother of Carolina (one of our cleft palate babies). Remember that she is a widowed mother of seven kids, three of whom have cleft palates. We also told her to go ahead and bring her three year old with them, in the hopes that he might get seen, too. But not to worry, we assured her, we will not give up if this is not the solution. We will continue to work until your kids are helped. She is the sweetest lady. We only wish you could all meet her. She really reminds us how lucky we are and how we can let little things get in the way of a good attitude sometimes.

This woman has seven kids, three with pretty significant birth defects, no husband, and no job. She is ALWAYS smiling, ALWAYS friendly, and ALWAYS so incredibly thankful. Shame on us for not being at least that positive.

Anyway, a short update on a few of the other kids:

Osny came in yesterday with his grandmother. Apparently, Mom was sick and couldn't bring him, but rather than just giving up, the family sent him with his grandmother to be weighed and to get some more milk and vitamins. He is still so tiny (less than 8 lbs) but is growing a little and looks much, much better than last week. Better color, more alert, etc. Please continue to pray for him. He needs all the help he can get.

Maria Buchan Chitic also came in yesterday. She is up over 12 lbs and looks great! She has the cutest little chubby cheeks, which are SO wonderful to see on a baby who has a hard time eating.

And Ricardo, the double cleft baby (who was abandoned by his mother at birth so she could keep his "good" twin) came in and looks better, too. His caretaker, Marcelina Zapeta Lopez, is the sweetest lady. She has one baby of her own at home and is doing a great job taking care of Ricardo. We have asked her a dozen times if there's anything we can do for her and she just tells us that, no, they're all doing fine!

Sorry we didn't get any new pictures of these kids yesterday - it was an absolute madhouse in clinic and Heidi is still feeling like hammered crud. We didn't have to set an alarm this morning, since we're obviously not flying into Zona Reyna, and she is going on 11 hours of sleep as I write this. Please pray for her to feel better soon, too.

We have some work around the house to do today before we head out to Canillá for the weekend. A few light sockets to replace, some work in the garden, and preparations for a month away starting in less than a week now.


Oops. Two more updates on patients we've told you about:

Baby Lesly's mom called us during clinic yesterday to tell us that she had died during the night. We offered to help with whatever we can and they may come by today to ask for some help buying a casket. They generally run around $60 for infants. I wish I didn't know that.

And Maria, the pregnant woman with a suspected case of aggressive breast cancer, came in yesterday for her regular prenatal visit. We are still awaiting a second opinion on her biopsy. If it comes back positive (a weird term, since you're praying for a negative result), Dr. Hoak will do her mastectomy ASAP. If not, he will perform a lumpectomy to remove the rest of the mass in her breast and pray that the pathologists got it right.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Remember When...

Remember when God promised good days and bad days? We've had lots of good ones. Today is shaping up to be the other kind.

Heidi was up all night last night sick. She probably got a total of an hour of sleep. So when the alarm went off for clinic this morning, it wasn't extremely welcome.

Matt loaded up the truck for clinic and went to start it and... well, there really was no "and". It didn't start. So he cheerfully unloaded it and repacked everything in the other truck. (Maybe "cheerfully" is a bit generous, but I'm writing this entry and I'll use whatever adjectives I want!)

Paul and Lindsey came to ride with us to clinic today and Paul is having another migraine. So we have two clinicians who feel like dirt and one who is just in a bad mood thinking about how we're going to fix this truck.

Even on dark days, however, God sees fit to give us a little light. At the Texaco station, we picked up our new friend, Juan Diego Lux. He is going to work with us at this clinic in Chicabracan to help evangelize and get to know patients on a little more personal and spiritual level. He is a SUPER neat guy and a real follower of Jesus. We believe that he is going to really make this clinic into something we feel much better about.

Most of our other clinics are organized through churches or pastors. This is the only one (or "was" the only one) that has no pastoral support. We felt very strongly that simply having a medical clinic was not what we were sent here to do. So Juan Diego is going to help fill that very large hole. He speaks Spanish, K'iche, and even a little bit of English, so we will be able to really communicate much better with our patients and serve them in a much more meaningful way.

Also a bright spot, considering our collective conditions today, there were only about a dozen patients, as opposed to around 40 on a normal clinic day there. And the patients we had were mostly chronic patients who need to be keeping up on their meds. Paul and Lindsey will be attending this clinic once in December and once in early January before we resume our normal schedule later in January.

We got home and checked our email and found some more bad news. Duane Ficker was going to fly up to the Ixcan and check out the landing strip there for a possible weekend trip this coming weekend. Well, he flew up, but on landing, his nose gear collapsed and the plane took quite a bit of damage. It is not flyable and had to stay up there in the middle of nowhere. He and Aaron had to hitch rides back home and are really, really bummed right now. Thank God that no one was hurt, but they are really searching for God's will right now. We were positive that God wanted us to work up there but He seems to be testing us to see how badly we want to do this. One little nose gear isn't going to deter us, but it will delay things a bit. Please pray for a good solution for the plane and for lots of guidance for all of us.

Anyway, today is not one of the best days we've had. We're hoping to improve our batting average a little with a visit to the hospital to check on baby Lesly later this afternoon. Hopefully things will be better with her.

We'll never give up (God certainly had his chances to give up on us and never did) but today is a little bit down. Pray for Heidi to feel better and for lots of good news in the coming days!


Postscript (added a few minutes after finishing the original entry): We see now that Sly Stallone has been born again. We've also recently seen some awesome writings by Chuck Norris on (also born again). Apparently, God is gaining traction on the over-60 tough guy crowd in Hollywood! Clint Eastwood, you're next...


Another postscript (added a few hours after the original): It's that kind of day. Baby Lesly has been moved to intensive care. Only one person is allowed in with her at any given time and right now it's her dad. Mom says she won't eat at all and has been told that the situation is very grave.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Another Day in the Life

Today was fairly calm, all things considered... We went out to clinic in Nueva Santa Catarina (the one with the wooden Church and cardboard walls, remember?!), and had a very slow clinic there. Apparently, we're already in the time of year when people start not showing up for clinic much, but that's okay since most of our chronic patients there made it. We were able to give them meds to last them until we get back out there in mid-January. Unless you're one of those crazy Internists or FP's that really gets a kick out of treating diabetes, there was nothing terribly interesting there today. (No offense to the FP's and Internist friends out there... I'm sure you find what Heidi does as an OB/Gyn to be generally disgusting!;-))

We did make it back in time to go see little baby Lesly in the hospital. (She's the 5-month old Down's Syndrome baby we've been writing about) Frankly, she looks terrible. The family is frustrated that she is not gaining any weight and not eating (the hospital took the feeding tube out over the weekend, for whatever reason...), and they are thinking about just taking her home. We prayed with them for wisdom in that decision and for God's will in little Lesly's life, and they did decide to stay for now. We'll keep you posted, but we're really afraid that this will be a case of "too little, too late..." She looks sick enough that she may not make it through tonight, so please pray for her family.

One thing that we are trying to do to make a better difference in little lives like these is to encourage moms to bring their babies in for "well-baby exams" after they are born. This is not a concept that has taken hold here. (Remember, most moms don't receive pre-natal care, either... Doctors are only for when you are sick for the most part!) A little bit of education could go a long way towards preventing situations as grave as Lesly's. The problem is, basically, if breastfeeding doesn't work to provide nutrition for a baby here (mom doesn't have a good milk supply for various reasons, or baby doesn't have the strength to suck well because of cleft palate issues or muscle tone issues like with Down's syndrome, for example...), the families just do NOT know what to do! There are no pediatricians involved, and all the women they can turn to for advice all breastfed! So there is no knowledge about formula feeding, essentially.

We in America can not really comprehend the fact that they don't understand that they need to feed a baby formula essentially as often as they would breastfeed (We've often heard of them feeding a newborn just 3 times a day, when they eat their meals!)-- But remember, THAT is the depth of the lack of education problem that we are dealing with. So please pray that we can meet some success in encouraging moms to bring their babies in early for evaluation and education.

Tomorrow Heidi will go operate with Dr. Hoak, and Matt will probably hang out here and field phone calls and knocks on the door... As well as work around the house, which we haven't had much time for lately. Hopefully this next attempt at going our separate ways for the day won't be quite as "adventurous" as the last one... ;-)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Good Weekend

We hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend. We certainly did. As you can see from our previous post, we had a very eventful Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Of course, we didn't have to brave any of the malls or post-holiday sales, which we are TRULY thankful for!

We commented on how Friday started in our previous post, but after we wrote, we had time to go down to the hospital to check on a few patients. Lesly, the Down's Sydrome baby we brought in with severe malnutrition is now on a feeding tube. Normally, that would not be considered good news, but we have been told that that is very uncommon here and it's probably her best chance for survival. She's too weak to eat, so "direct deposit" of nutrition in her little belly is great news.

After checking in on Lesly and her mom (who was in much better spirits than before), we stopped by to see Manuela Ordonez, the woman who we brought in with the suspected molar pregnancy (that turned out to be a spontaneous abortion). Praise God, she had received her surgery and gone home! A previous patient waited a week and a half for her surgery and Manuela was in and out in two days!!

While we were in maternity, however, we decided to ask about the woman we referred from ASELSI whose baby had not grown in six weeks. She had checked in that morning and was there with her husband, waiting for an assessment by the local doctors. YAY for patients listening to our advice and coming to get help!!!

Saturday morning, we got up early (it was hard - the temperature in our bedroom was in the mid-40s!) and drove to Canilla for clinic with Leslie and Katie. The Fickers were helping to pack up the houseguests they had from the U.S. for Thanksgiving and were getting ready to fly them back to Guatemala City for their flight home. So Katie and Heidi handled most of the clinic to help Leslie. It was a relatively quiet clinic, since there was a "Feria" (fair) in town. The good news was that on our way to Canilla, we picked up some riders (very typical) and one of them was the Cotton Candy man. We never accept money for the rides we offer, but he paid us with a bag of cotton candy. That was a first - and yummy, too!

Saturday afternoon, after helping Duane land and park the plane at the hangar (after dropping off their family friends, he went grocery shopping and then picked up a local family from the airport and brought them back to Canilla), we got a call from Lydia's family that her mother was very sick in childbirth.

As you may have read, the Fickers took in a little girl named Martina who is mentally disabled and had been burned very badly when she seized and fell into a fire. Lydia is the 16-year-old girl who they hired to be Martina's full-time caretaker. Her mother lives about a 15 minute drive and another 15 minute walk up into the mountains.

So we jumped into the truck and raced into the mountains. Unfortunately, as they were calling us, the baby was being born, arm first, and died before the mid-wife could get her out. So we arrived at the house to see them cleaning up a dead baby. We checked on Mom, who was exhausted (mid-wives often have moms start pushing the minute they go into labor, so they are BEAT by the time the baby is born). We were no more than 50 yards back up the mountain on our way out before they started yelling for us to come back. Mom was seizing.

Unfortunately, the house they live in has no electricity and practically no natural light, and Mom was in a back corner where we couldn't see at all. We had them move her to where we could see a little better and when they got her off the bed, she collapsed. Matt scooped her up and carried her to another bed where there was more light. When he stood up, he was covered in blood. Not good.

Apparently, Mom had not eaten in about two days, was exhausted, and was bleeding. Heidi did whatever it is that doctors do when they don't have much for medicine (you can tell Matt is writing this!) and when we left, Mom was drinking some sugar water and eating some egg soup, which seemed like a drastic improvement from 20 minutes before. We told Lydia to call us if she needed more help. The phone never rang, so we can assume Mom did better after that!

Today was an average day in clinic in San Andres. Our translators' great-grandmother came in with what appears to be a surgical gall bladder, so we will refer her to Dr. Hoak (if you're still thinking about donating money to his fund, this is the type of thing that his presence allows us to do - without him in Chichicastenango, we would have very few options for this woman.)

Tomorrow we are back in Nueva Santa Catarina. It'll probably be quite cold there, since it's at 10,000 feet altitude and it's been pretty cold here (at only 6700 feet). Also, please pray for clear weather in the Zona Reina region. Duane is hoping to fly there tomorrow and scout out locations for us to land to do a two-day clinic on Friday-Saturday of this week. The people there are even poorer than the people here and have ZERO access to medical care. It can take more than a day to get there (assuming you can get there at all) across some very tough mountains unless you have a plane. Then it's about 18 minutes. Luckily, God has provided a plane. So off we go. Please, God, clear weather!!!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Dia de Pavo (Turkey Day!)

As we mentioned before, Thanksgiving is not exactly a holiday here in Guatemala. So we were in clinic. But, since there are lots of gringos around, we decided to celebrate anyway. And we have plenty to be thankful for!

Clinic was interesting, again. Our lady with the unintended pregnancy (she's not married) came in and we had a chance to minister to her some.

We had a six month old who is having seizures. Thank goodness we know a good Family Practice doctor (Lisa Dunham) who has a clinic in this baby's village. We're referring the family to her. (Dad has epilepsy and is occasionally medicated for it.)

We saw our possible breast cancer patient again and have scheduled her for a visit with Dr. Hoak on Monday and a mastectomy on Tuesday if the pathology comes back indicating that she needs one. Heidi will be doing a hysterectomy that day already, so it should be easy to schedule, if needed.

We also saw a woman whose baby has not grown in utero in about six weeks. It still has a heartbeat, but is not growing. Add to that that another doctor who saw her at ASELSI thought he spotted a cleft lip on ultrasound. The patient told us that she was going to come to the hospital today. We'll go check on her in a few minutes.

And, since these things tend to come in bunches, we had another woman come in with a breast mass. Thank God it looks like hers is just an abscess and not a tumor, but we'll check her again next week and see what else we need to do for her.

Also, we got to see one of our cleft palate babies again. Osni is still not gaining weight. Mom says she's feeding him more, but still not as much as the hospital in Antigua suggested. We are giving her the entire amount of milk she needs (normally, milk program babies only get a portion and the families have to buy the rest). We're not entirely sure that Mom is feeding him correctly, so we had a lesson (the first pic is of Sharon Harvey feeding a VERY hungry Osni).

If he hasn't picked up any weight by next week, we're going to suggest that she bring him to the hospital here in Quiche to try to fatten him up some.

Anyway, after clinic, Heidi went shopping at the local market and Matt went to Shawn and Bob's house (other missionaries) where they have satellite TV and we could watch football.

Later in the day, lots more missionaries showed up and we had a wonderful turkey dinner. (See picture #2).

This morning, we got up and went on a housecall with Pastor Eliseo from San Pedro. One of his church members has been struck with Bell's Palsy. We drove about 30 minutes off-road and then walked another 15 or so straight up a mountain. She is in her 30s and single, which is very hard for women here. Her house is made of logs and planks she's gathered and has about a 5'6" ceiling (between the beams). Therefore, Matt got to stand outside.

We gave her some meds and prayed with her and assured her that this does not mean she's dying or that there's anything life threatening here. She's still trying to carry on with her life - when we got there, we had to wait a few minutes because she had climbed the mountain to fetch water from somewhere.

After that, we went out and checked on the school that NBRI (our funding group) is helping to build. Lots more work going on there. They are in the step now known as "repello", which involves slinging mortar onto the ceiling and smoothing it out, giving it a finished look. It takes four men about a week to do each room.

Oh, and when we got home, a green truck was in our driveway. OUR green truck! We had left it with a mechanic friend, Martin, a few days ago and it magically arrived back and fixed! The starter needed a bit of work and the battery cables were pretty well shot. So he cleaned up the starter, replaced the battery cables, and installed a better bracket to keep the battery from bouncing around on these roads. Total bill: $8.

And, since this is how things work here, our friend Pastor Roy Espinosa called and said that he had a teenage girl from his church who was badly burned yesterday when a pot of boiling milk spilled on her face. So he brought her over and he was right. The entire left side of her face is black and burned. Luckily, it doesn't look extremely deep, but we gave her some cream to keep on it, some meds for pain, and the advice not to pick at the scabs. Hopefully things will heal up nicely (and before her school starts again in January - she's at the age where a facial burn would not be beneficial to her social life!)

Well, that's it for now. We are reminded every day how thankful we are to be for the blessings God has sent us.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Day Off - Sort of

Today started out in the most wonderful way. An alarm didn't go off. Yes, we enjoy our simple pleasures! Our favorite part about a day off is the conspicuous absence of an alarm.

Of course, there was a knock on the door, but it was after we were already up. Manuela, the woman we feared had the molar pregnancy actually DID show back up at the hospital. They admitted her and when we went to go check on her during visiting hours, her husband was still here and had actually been sent to the store to get a towel and some toilet paper (they don't supply those here at the hospital).

We went and picked up her lab results at 4pm and the good news is that she doesn't have a molar pregnancy. The bad news is that she had a spontaneous abortion a few months back and will probably need a minor surgery to clean out her uterus. More good news, though. We met Dr. Maria Perez, a Mayan (dressed in traje under her lab coat) OB/GYN who will be taking care of her. We did not know about Dr. Perez and were very excited to meet her!

Also during visiting hours (really, we should say visiting HOUR - it's only from 2pm-3pm), we checked on baby Lesly. She has been moved from the nutrition area to the pediatric "intensive care" area and put on an IV for nutrition. She is still not eating well, is still losing weight, and still has diarrhea. The outlook is not good. (See her picture below.)

On the positive side, though, she had five family members here to see her, including an uncle who speaks excellent Spanish. He practically begged us to go ask the doctors what else they can do for her. He said that the doctors will never listen to him, but they would listen to us. We explained that it looked like they were doing everything they could. We even told him that Matt had seen one of the doctors in the gym yesterday and talked to him about Lesly there. We told him that we are praying for her and that their family should, too. He said they were and will continue to. Our "regalito" (little gift) for her today was some disposable diapers. The hospital provides cloth diapers for the moms, but her mom really did want some disposable ones (remember, she has diarrhea - not so fun for Mom).

We also had a chance to talk to Ceritas (the local nuns) today about some things we're working on together, with Eliseo (the pastor in San Pedro) about a woman in his community with Bell's Palsy (who we'll probably go visit on Friday), with Dr. Hoak about a woman with some "female" problems, and with Sharon at ASELSI about our Thanksgiving plans for tomorrow!

One last story for you before we say goodnight. Last night, we were hanging out on the couch, enjoying the heat from our portable heater (it's been in the 40s here at night - ouch!) and Heidi spotted a mouse walking - not running - walking across our floor. We woke Jake up and literally threw him at the mouse, which he finally took care of, after playing with it for a few minutes. What a life HE has!

Tomorrow is clinic at ASELSI, then Thanksgiving dinner in Chichicastenango with some other missionary families. Thanksgiving is not a holiday here. They didn't call their gringos "pilgrims", they called them "conquistadors". Subtle yet important difference.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Busy, but...

Yes, today was busy, but different than we expected. We were at the Centro de Salud in San Bartolome today - an area with one of the highest fetal and maternal mortality rates in the country - or so we were told before. The last time we went, we saw about 30 or 40 pre-natal patients and everything was peaceful ("tranquilo" is the word they use here).

This time, we arrived and apparently caught them off guard. The nurse, Heidy, our contact there, had forgotten to tell everyone we were coming. And she was on a call. Just before we got there, a local midwife had called and told them they had a mom in a bit of trouble, so off went Heidy in the ambulance. She returned shortly after we arrived to say that the baby had been born before they got there but didn't make it. We should have known that today wasn't going to be good.

We only had four patients to start, not really a problem for us - short days are nice. But Heidi gets the very first patient on the table, starts the ultrasound, and says "You've got to be kidding me!" Another mole - maybe. It's either a mole or a miscarriage, but looks more like a mole. If it is, that's three in four months. DANG! Dad was actually there with Mom, another instance of a caring dad (way to go, guys!), but even Dad doesn't speak a tremendous amount of Spanish.

So we explained to them, through an interpreter, what is going on and that they'll have to go to the hospital in Quiche for evaluation, blood tests, etc., then probably a surgery to fix the problem. It's very difficult to explain to people who've been pregnant ten times that this particular pregnancy is different - it's not a baby in there, but a tumor. Most have never heard of this problem and it's sometimes hard to convince them, but they did great. They went home to pack some things and waited for us on the road back to Quiche. We brought them here to the hospital and helped them get their labs done in town. More on that in a minute.

The second mom's baby was fine. However, the last time she had a baby, her uterus ruptured and they had to do a C-section. That means she needs a C-section this time, too, at least that's her best option here in Guatemala. (Dr. Yeomans could probably deliver her, but he doesn't work here!) The problem is that she didn't get any good dating early in her pregnancy and once you get close, the American measurements we have aren't quite as accurate as they are early. (American babies are normally much bigger...) So this lady lives at least an hour's drive from a hospital and she can't exactly schedule a C-section because her dating isn't too good. (If they take the baby and it's too early, its chances aren't the same here as they are in the U.S.) But she promised to head to the hospital as soon as her labor starts. Pray that everything works out okay there.

The third mom's baby was not fine. The first thing you look for on ultrasound is a head, which is normally shaped like, well, a head. This one looked more like a squished spaghetti-o. And the spine was bent up like a staple. And by measuring the femur, it was only about 15 week size. Mom has been pregnant for seven months. In other words, we're going to need a surgery here to take the baby out (it's been dead for some time). So she was going to go home, get her husband and return for a ride to the hospital. She never showed back up. So please pray for her, too, that she decides to come here. Luckily, before she left, we counselled her that that's what she needed to do. Hopefully all she missed was a ride, not the point of the conversation.

Baby number four was fine, thank God, and it was early in her pregnancy, too, so she should be able to get excellent pre-natal care at the Centro de Salud. We've been so impressed with the folks out there. They don't have a lot of equipment, but they really do care and they work very hard to provide the best health care they can, which is a whole lot better than was there a year ago!

As we were waiting for Mom #3 to return, three more moms came in and we checked them out, too. Fortunately, all was well with them. One thing we noticed, though, was that these moms do tend to have lost more kids than moms we see in other places. When we first started here, we expected to see lots of G10 P5's (G is how many times you've been pregnant, P is how many living children you have.) However, for the most part, it's pretty unusual for a mom to have lost more than one, and it's actually more common for all of a woman's kids to be alive. Sick, maybe. Malnourished, maybe. But alive.

In San Bartolome, however, at least based on our small sample size today, the average was more like two kids lost per mom. Very sad. Our hope is that we can help, even if it's just a little tiny bit, the great folks that are working there to improve those numbers.

Okay, more on Mom #1. We picked them up on the side of the road on our way back to Quiche and brought them here to the hospital and got their labs taken. We said all that, right? The labs won't be back until tomorrow afternoon, but apparently the doctor on call agreed with Heidi's assessment and wanted Mom to stay. The problem is that she already has a half dozen or so kids at home - and is nursing. Mom and Dad came to our door this afternoon and said that they have to go home and take care of their kids tonight, but that they'll be back in the morning. Pray for that to go okay, too. If it's a molar pregnancy, she really needs to be in a hospital.

When we got home, we had no electricity. So Matt went down to the hospital to work on that while Heidi was taking the family to the lab. When we've split up in the past, things haven't gone so well, but there's a first time for everything. Today, surprisingly, was it. Everything went fine - we got the power on and the labs taken. Gracias a Dios!

We also got a chance to go check on Lesly, the Down's Syndrome girl we told you about last week that we brought here because she was so malnourished. Bad news. She looks even worse now. She has lost even more weight and her eyes are so sunken into her head that she barely looks like a baby. Skin is just hanging around her entire body - her neck, her wrists, her legs, her arms. It's very sad. The nurse told us that she has diarrhea and is on antibiotics. She also said she's seen them look this bad and make it, but I doubt that Las Vegas would put very good odds on her. Please pray for her, too.

We did get to go open a new bank account tonight with Jacob. Remember that our other bank folded. The new account is good news, I think. Normally things are very difficult here, but we were only there for about ten minutes and probably five of that was just shooting the breeze with Jacob.

Oh, and we got the green truck to Martin, our mechanic friend here in town. (Remember that it died on Heidi last week.) Hopefully it'll be something very simple (and cheap) and we'll have it back in time for Paul and Lindsey to use it while we're in the U.S. over Christmas. It seems weird to ask for prayers for a truck after all this other stuff, but while you're praying, toss in our truck, too, if you would!

Tomorrow is supposed to be a bonifide day off. We'll let you know how that goes!

Oh, pictures. These two girls here are the daughters of the cleaning lady at the Centro de Salud. They were SO cute and friendly, we just had to play with them and take their picture. And, of course, one with Mom, too. (Note the toddler she's carrying on her back while she's working! Sometimes he plays with the two girls, sometimes Mom has him.)

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Yes, Two in One Day

So sorry to post twice in one day, but somehow we feel that you'll forgive us. ;)

We just got back from an awesome meeting in Chichicastenango with many of the American missionary health care providers. Sharon Harvey (with ASELSI) hosted. She is a nurse and runs the clinic there. Besides clinic one day a week, they also do feeding programs for malnourished kids, a physical therapy program for injured or disabled kids, and they do lots of work with helping to provide surgery for people who are in desperate circumstances.

Leslie Ficker and Katie Elleiott are both nurses that we work with in Canillá and San Andrés. They also do a clinic in Chiminicijuan and are going to start doing some work in Ixcan and Zona Reina (with their new plane).

Lisa Dunham is a family practice doctor, also based in Chichicastenango. She and her husband do a lot of rural clincs, just like the two of us, but their setup is slightly different. Most of their clinics are only once a month and their organization is hiring lots of local doctors and dentists to start building some more permanent clinics in very underserved areas. They are also helping to train local volunteer health promoters, but shared with us that that is exceedingly challenging!

Tom Hoak is a general surgeon in Chichicastenango and is where most of the missionary doctors/nurses refer their surgical patients. Heidi has done some surgeries with him and there is probably going to be a need for a missionary OB/GYN at his hospital very soon. The hospital he works at is a missionary hospital and thus has a very low cost, but still has to charge patients. He has a fund that supplements what patients cannot pay. The average surgery costs $500-$700 and the average patient can contribute between $10-$50. (The people here really are poor!) He is in a bit of a tough spot financially right now and there is way more need than there is money.

You may remember the man with the back tumor that Heidi assisted on the surgery and the woman with the breast tumor that needed a biopsy. He also has a woman there whose uterus is literally between her knees. With the government hospitals being closed for non-emergency surgeries, there is a greater need now than ever. He never turns away anyone who truly needs the help but is in a bit of a funding crisis. Anyone who feels led to help some of the desperate people here can make a world of difference with just a few hundred dollars. Please let us know if you want to help.

Also very exciting is the fact that we (the American missionaries) are working very hard to ensure that we all know who has teams coming down and when. With this information, we can refer patients to each other's teams. We also have a bit of a network so if resources or services are being offered, we have a wider base of interest and need to ensure that those resources and services are being used where they are most needed.

And finally, we are in the med sharing business now, too. We have been sharing meds and equipment amongst ourselves and now have a formal way to let each other know when we have a glut of something or a need for something. Once resources are donated, they belong to God, not to us, so we don't particularly care which doctor or nurse hands them out. We will be sharing some of the diabetes strips we just received (and the response to that information was thunderous - those things are hard for everybody to get and they are desperately needed). Sharon singlehandedly restocked our pharmacy with about a dozen different meds we were running out of and she doesn't need. Leslie went home with about four armloads of stuff she needs, too. And the hospital here in Quiché will receive and entire pickup truck bed worth of stuff on Wednesday that was brought in by everybody to be shared.

Tomorrow, we are headed to San Bartolomé for another day of prenatal screening in the Centro de Salud (Center of Health) there. You may recall that this area has some of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the nation. The local docs and nurses are doing a fantastic job in their new Centro and they are using our ultrasound machine as a way to draw people in so they can see what is available to them. (Acceptance of new ideas comes a little slow in some places.) With any luck, all of our patients tomorrow will be perfectly healthy, but if not, we'll do what we can to help!

God is Good

This weekend was a wonderful reminder of just that... starting with the drive out to Canilla on Saturday morning. These pictures are from the road, and don't really even do the scene justice! Had to share them anyway...

What you are looking at is taken from the side of a mountain ridge, looking down in to the valley, with another ridge off in the distance. The clouds are almost completely covering the valley, except for where the mountain peaks poke through in the distance and the bottom left-hand corner where the clouds look like they are literally just pouring in to the one little town.

In real life, it almost looked like a waterfall in the foreground, with a "city in the clouds" in the distance. When we have the privilege of witnessing such marvels of nature, we are left to wonder how anyone can truly believe this all happens by accident.

Anyway, clinics this weekend also went fairly well. Prayer requests go out for the young lady in San Andres with the anencephalic infant, Isabela Mateo. We are much more sure of the diagnosis now after a second ultrasound. The plan was to discuss it with her and her family this week, but she again showed up alone to clinic. Her husband left two days ago to go do seasonal work on the Coast (harvesting sugarcane or coffee on the plantations...), and her mother-in-law was busy.

It's hard to imagine how alone this young mother must feel holding the information that her baby will not live for more than a few hours at best. She knows nothing of the love of our God, either. She has never been witnessed to in any way by any Christian. Again, we cannot imagine how alone THAT must feel! We spoke with her briefly and prayed with/for her in clinic, but it is hard to know how much that seed can grow in the midst of all of the other information she received that day. Leslie does know a local pastor that can go out and see her this week, and we will continue to work hard to build a relationship with her and care for her during this pregnancy. Please pray for wisdom and guidance and for this young lady to receive Christ's love and salvation in her heart, perhaps through this experience.

This young lady's story, along with a beautiful worship service Saturday night at the Fickers, served again as excellent reminders of the primary reason that we are here. It is so easy to get caught up in "practicing a trade" (as Matt prayed on Sunday) with these patients when you have spent so much of your life just learning how to do that.

With 60 people waiting to see you to talk about the same four or five health problems, for the most part, over and over again for the day, it is also very easy to forget that the medicine should really be the smallest part of what we do for them. The education about their problems and how to avoid them in the future is, of course, even more important. But the most important thing, of course, is to show them a tangible example of God's love for His world and His people. Please pray that this continues to weigh heavy on our hearts and remain always our primary focus in our mission here.

Friday, November 17, 2006


Well, it's not like we're not scheduled to be in clinic all weekend or anything, but at least we CAN thank God that today is essentially over! It's been another interesting one...

Today started out with Matt's very generous offer to go and do the clinic in Chinique with Paul and Lindsey in order to free up Heidi to go to Chichicastenango and be with Maria Suy Chan as she got her breast biopsy. This gave Paul and Lindsey a chance to get back in the swing of things with the clinic, spend more time learning our computer record-keeping system, and overall preparing to run the clinics while we're gone in December. Matt also had a chance to practice a lot more Spanish, AND got invited to go sit in with Paul's friends as they get together to play some music tonight. The tough part was that we saw about 50% more patients than we usually do there today! Ooops... Sorry Matt, Paul, and Lindsey! They did a really fantastic job, by all accounts.

Meanwhile, Heidi was having her own (mis-) adventures on her way to Chichi... It seems that the truck didn't QUITE want to make it all the way there, so it stopped in the middle of the road instead! God is good, though, and his angels were really looking out for us today. The truck died literally right in front of the biggest, cleanest, nicest gas station we know of... AND on the straightest stretch of road between here and Chichi where visibility from both sides is good and no one was going to blindly stumble upon a truck parked in the middle of the road... AND, literally, right between two "tumulos" (speed-bumps) to further decrease the risk of at least a high-speed collision. The boys at the gas station were a huge help, and it wasn't long before Heidi was on her way again to the hospital. (We're pretty sure we need to check/repair/replace the alternator, but that's no big deal considering how much worse that could have been!)

Dr. Hoak was nice enough to see Maria and add her on to his already very busy surgical schedule for today. We did her biopsy late this afternoon, and will both be very, very surprised if the pathologist tells us anything other than that she has cancer. (The first part of her story was posted yesterday, if you're reading these out of order, by the way...) We will follow-up on the results, of course, and continue to work to help her and her family in any way that we can. Please pray for her! This one hits Heidi especially close to home, as many of you know. Tomorrow it will be 23 years since her mother passed away from metastatic breast cancer at age 38.

Also on a more personal note, we're happy to report how we realize daily that we make a very good team. God really knew what He was doing when He got the two of us together to come down here! (We know, He's pretty much well-known for being on top of these things... but it's nice to stop and really think about them every once in a while) Matt has learned so much Spanish and Medicine that he was really able to "step up" today so that Heidi could be with the breast cancer patient and continue to build that relationship... AND he could diagnose the truck's problem over the phone in between patients! Heidi, unfortunately, has NOT picked up any of Matt's musical skills (still pretty tone-deaf...), but couldn't even begin to imagine trying to do anything at all down here without Matt's help and support.

"Two people are better than one because together they have a good reward for their hard work. If one falls, the other can help his friend get up... Though one person may be overpowered by another, two people can resist one opponent. A triple-braided rope is not easily broken." --Ecclesiastes 4:9,10,12

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Lots of Prayer Requests

Today was a busier than average day at ASELSI. Normally, clinic there takes about four hours. Today was about six and a half and we weren't even close to done with our day yet. Not only were there a lot of patients, but the ones we had needed a lot of help. I guess we'll just start at the top.

The first was a return patient named Francisca Morales. She is 35 years old, is in her eighth pregnancy and has only had four live births. She lost the other three while she was pregnant due to beatings she took from her husband. We told you about her about a month ago after her first visit. Well, she left her husband yesterday and took her kids. That's a pretty big deal here. We asked her if she had moved in with family and she said that, no, she is renting an apartment. Rent is about $26 a month. She makes tortillas and sells them to pay the bills. We're not exactly sure just yet how we're going to help her, but we're definitely going to help her. Please pray for her and her family.

The second is Maria Suy Chan. We also told you about her about a month ago. She is 22 weeks into her 11th pregnancy and is only 35 years old. She has what we believe to be inflamatory breast cancer. If we're right, she's in a bit of trouble. It's a particularly rare and particularly aggressive form of breast cancer. When we first saw her, we suggested that she go to Guatemala City and get a mammogram, which she did (which is no small feat - it's about a four hour drive to The City and quite a pain once you get there). Her husband came in with her today and is a very caring and loving husband - she's quite lucky. We referred her to Dr. Hoak who is going to perform a biopsy tomorrow between hernia surgeries. Please pray that we're wrong on our initial diagnosis and, if not, that we can somehow help her with this condition.

The third is Jose. Jose originally came to ASELSI as a diabetes patient. He is a professional driver but due to his diabetes, couldn't see well enough to drive. Sharon got his sugar under control and he started driving again. Soon after, though, he was involved in a pretty serious accident in which he broke his arm quite badly. We referred him to Dr. Edgar, a Guatemalan Orthopedic Surgeon who is a friend of ours, who is helping with his broken arm. However, it appears that Jose's personal demon is alcohol. He got drunk this past weekend, fell on his broken arm, and additionally, has an abscess in his mouth. Not a good week for Jose. He is a Christian, but continues to struggle with his addiction. Please pray for his injuries and for his continuing battle.

The fourth is Lesly Andreina Xon Ixtuc. She was born on June 15, 2006 (making her about five months old) at about ten pounds, according to the midwife. His mom brought her in to ASELSI today because she has a cough. On exam, we found that she was frighteningly malnourished (later found to be 3 lbs 13 oz). We sent Mom home to talk to Dad with the thought that she would need to come to the hospital with the baby to be admitted to the in-patient nutrition program. Thus, we met our second supportive dad of the day. His name is Juan Xon. He and the baby's mom waited for us outside our clinic door for over an hour while we saw other patients, then rode with us to the Hospital Buen Samaritano, where Heidi had to see another patient - one whose uterus is literally hanging between her legs. Then they rode with us here to Quiche.

On the way, they told us that when Lesly was born, the midwife told them that she thought there was another baby still inside and they had to come to the hospital here. They did but were told that there was no twin. Mom was still bleeding quite heavily but they kept her from eating for two days (because she needed a D&C - a quick surgery to clean out the uterus and stop the bleeding). She got hungry and left the hospital AMA (against medical advice). Thank God the bleeding stopped and she didn't die. The baby, however, wasn't breast feeding well, so they started feeding her hot water. This continued for a month before they decided to buy formula for her. We may have mentioned before that health education is somewhat lacking here. These are very well-intentioned parents, they just don't know any better.

Did we mention that this baby is about as white as we are, has crossed eyes, and is apparently a Down's Syndrome baby? None of this really helps her condition.

Well, we got them to the hospital this afternoon and waited for about two hours for a doctor to come examine her. Once they finally showed up, they were very nice and helpful, and a nurse actually spoke K'iche to the mother (it's quite rare for educated people to admit that they can speak K'iche). Mom and baby have been admitted to the hospital and we will check on them as often as we can to help keep Mom fed and see what we can do to help cover lab costs.

Oh, and one more little tidbit on the day. Okay, maybe two. We had a woman come in (with a supportive husband - it was a good day for that) who had been to the hospital because she was having pain in an area that would cause concern for a pregnant woman. They told her that the pain might have something to do with her baby and that she should get an ultrasound. No kidding? Well, the hospital HAS an ultrasound. But they referred her to a private lab she couldn't afford, so she simply waited until today and came to our clinic. Everything looked fine, thank God.

Another patient (with a supportive husband, too - like we said, a good day for that) said she couldn't feel her baby moving and had a note from some type of health center that said they couldn't detect any fetal heart tones either. So with some dread, we fired up the ultrasound and found.... a healthy baby! After Heidi showed the mother that the baby was moving on the screen, she admitted that she could feel it moving now, but only on one side. We'll take that.

Oh, and the record for today was a 35 year old patient in her 14th pregnancy!!! Guess that's what happens when televisions are too expensive for most to afford...

Below is a picture of little Lesly. Please pray for her and her mother (who does not speak Spanish and is now staying here at the hospital where very few people speak K'iche). Dad works in the fields and only makes $4 a day, so he won't be able to come very often to visit. We'll do what we can, but our K'iche is a little lacking, just yet.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Clinic Today and Assorted Randomness

Today was our clinic in Chicabracan. Nothing terribly exciting, except for a few diabetic patients who are continuing to control their diabetes well. It's not exactly front page news, but it means that they're enjoying a higher quality of life, and hopefully a longer one, than they would have had without the help that has come from all of you who support this mission.

Also, we received the news today that our fundraising efforts for the cleft palate kids we're working with have been amazingly successful. Thank you SO much to all of you who have donated. We tackled this challenge with the trust that God would provide and He has - in a big way!

And, having very little else to write about today, we'll throw in some more pics from Matt's parents' visit. The first is a picture of a fairly typical house in this part of the world.

The second is one of Matt and Heidi in clinic in San Andres. (We don't get too many pictures of us together, so here's one!)

The third is of our kitchen with the very exciting new curtains there. (Maybe not exciting to you, but exciting to us and it's our blog - so HA!)

And the last one is of Paul and Lindsey in clinic with us today. They are a husband and wife and are Guatemalan medical students who are supported by Agape In Action. They are off between school years in November and December and they will be covering clinics for us while we're back in the US over Christmas.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

We Post Pictures When We Have Nothing to Say!

Nothing much new to report tonight... We spent most of the day today driving Matt's parents to their return flight out of Guatemala City. It was sad to see them go, but we're so happy and thankful that they were able to share this life here with us for the last 12 days! Can't wait for the rest of y'all to come down for the "grand tour"...

Since they are better shutterbugs than us, here are three of our favorite pictures from their visit. The first is the four of us at Lake Atitlan, a beautiful resort town which we have written about before (The same hotel where we stayed for our anniversary). The three peaks you see in the background are all volcanoes.

What a spectacular view!

The second shot is from last week's trip to Antigua with the cleft palate families... This boy's name is Fredy, and we just couldn't resist his smile the whole time we were with him. He and his parents were probably the poorest of the poor on this trip, but yet among the happiest.

The last one is a panoramic shot from Dad Bell's camera of the view just outside our front door. The large building is the Hospital, with the Pepsi signs on the cafeteria right beside it. We have not been brave enough to date to sample their wares. You can also see the soccer field in our front yard and the guarded gate at the end of the driveway. The ER is at the end of the hospital closest to our front door, which really helps with noise control, of course!

Tomorrow we are off to clinic again at Chicabracan, which should be pretty busy since we missed last time for the All Saints Day/"Day of the Dead" holiday. Wish us luck. We should have more stories to tell by then...
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