Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Hospital Buen Samaritano

Yesterday was Heidi's first day at the Hospital Buen Samaritano. She sat in on a couple of surgeries with Dr. Hoak, including a breast biopsy for one of our patients from ASELSI. She also did a vaginal hysterectomy on a woman from our clinic in San Andrés. This woman came to us with a diagnosis of early cervical cancer (squamous cell carcinoma in-situ for you who use big words like that...) She had a surgery scheduled in Guatemala City but was trying to raise some money to pay for it. Leslie knows the family and the church and told us that she had a tough hill to climb. So Heidi did her surgery for her.

Dr. Hoak and Heidi normally have to pay an anesthesiologist somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 for each surgery. This week, we have an American volunteer anesthesiologist for a few days and we're getting as many surgeries done as we can. That's why Heidi didn't get back to Quiché until nearly 9pm last night!

Today is Heidi's first day in clinic at Hospital Buen Samaritano. It'll probably be a quiet day from a clinic standpoint, but she'll likely end up sitting in on some surgeries with Dr. Hoak.

Matt's been home starting work on his solo album (lots of pre-work to do before his studio gets here) and doing some work around the house.

Tomorrow is clinic at ASELSI and then Heidi will be back at Buen Samaritano on Friday.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Busy Weekend

Sometimes our weekend trips to Canilla/San Andres are uneventful, relaxing weekends with a lot of spiritual "topping off the tanks". This was not one of those. Not that it was bad - far from it - it was just not "uneventful".

Saturday morning began around 6:00am with a phone call. It's not customary for people here to introduce themselves on the phone, they just start talking - which usually starts the guessing game. After a few minutes on the line, we determined that this caller was the father of a boy we've been looking for in Chicabracan. The Sisters at Ceritas informed us that they had encountered a 13-year-old boy with a cleft lip and wondered if we could help him. The problem was that they didn't know how to contact him.

At our clinic in Chicabracan last week, we asked if anyone in line knew of an older boy with a cleft lip (it's not a big place, Chicabracan). Of course, someone knew him. So we sent our phone number with them and asked them to have the boy's family call us. So they did. At 6am on a Saturday. Oh well, we had to get up anyway!

Clinic in Canilla was actually very short, for some reason. Apparently, nearly everyone around town was feeling just fine on Saturday. So we had a long afternoon to hang out with the Fickers. We built some concrete forms for work that needs to be done at the hangar, we netted 50 fish out of one pond and brought them to another, etc. - all normal stuff in a day in Canilla.

It was nice and warm, though (sorry for those of you living in snowland right now), so we hung out near the fishpond behind the house. The second picture is what happens to girls like Katie who stand too close to a body of water when boys like Joe are around. (The first pic is a shot from the road on our drive there in the morning.)

The third pic is what Heidi looks like when she's done with clinic. The creature in her overalls is, possibly, an even more loving cat than Jake - and a good mouser, too. (Jake did quite well this week, though, with at least two rats that we counted.)

As we sat down to watch our movie and eat some dessert that Heidi made, we were interrupted by someone at the gate. Joe went out to find out what they wanted and returned to let us know that it was an emergency and someone was bleeding, but we should wait to see this next scene in the movie real quick before we go out there. (He doesn't get worked up too easily.)

It turned out that the emergency was simply a guy who had had a bit too much to drink before he ventured out onto a dirt road on his motorcycle. He'll have some nice scars for his trouble, but he'll live. Basically, just a clean-up job.

This morning, well before any of us had any intention of waking up, someone else came to the gate and demonstrated some considerable proficiency at operating their car horn. It was a local midwife with a 14-year-old patient. She had been laboring since 3am and the midwife wanted to check with our ultrasound to see if the baby was head down (cephalic) and not breech. It took Heidi about two minutes to decide that this baby was either going to be born in the clinic room or in the car on the way back to her house.

So about 30 minutes later, we had a new baby with us. It was Matt's first opportunity to watch Heidi deliver a baby and he didn't pass out or anything. The fourth pic is of the mom and her first baby, a little girl.

Clinic in San Andres was relatively uneventful except for the family we brought back to Quiche with us in the back of our truck. They have a baby who Leslie believes is pretty sick. It's a testament to our faith in her opinion that we never really even looked at the baby, we just brought them all here to the hospital.

Well, that's about it for now. Tomorrow we are hosting most of the local American healthcare providers for our periodic networking get together. We'll be meeting two missionary doctors who are coming in from Guatemala City for the meeting, too, and we are very excited about that!

Friday, January 26, 2007


Yesterday was a busy day at ASELSI. A normal load of patients there is somewhere in the neighborhood of 20. We saw over 30.

Many of our patients there were prenatal patients. This is wonderful because it's something Sharon has been praying for for a long time. If we can get moms to come in while they're pregnant, then come back for well baby checks, we can help with lots of problems, such as cleft palates, club feet, and malnutrition. Sometimes, babies born with a birth defect are simply abandoned or relegated to second-class status. In many of these cases, a surgery can correct the problem but if parents don't know that surgery is available... you see where this goes.

Naturally, we have a few stories from clinic. One was a twelve year old girl who came in with a very severe looking rash on her bottom lip and left cheek. She said she had had it for four years. We treated it as impetigo, which is probably is, but we found out later that the man who had brought her in was not her father (we simply assumed he was). He was her teacher. How neat to have a teacher who cares enough about his students to bring them to a doctor when he sees they need help. This girl was clearly quite poor - her school uniform sweater probably wouldn't qualify for car-rag duty in the U.S. The sleeves had unravelled at least a few inches each and there were holes all throughout. Most of the buttons were missing and at least one set of "button holes" were tied together with string.

She is probably poor beyond our ability to really comprehend, but she's in school. She seems very intelligent and has a teacher who has taken a personal interest in her - not just an academic interest. Please pray that she is able to break the cycle of poverty in her family and that her kids will have new sweaters to wear to school.

One moment that would have been funny had it not been so serious was when about half of the ladies who work at the registration desk came bursting into our clinic room (in the middle of another patient) holding a little lump under a blanket and chattering about 100mph in K'iche. We saw just the little face poking out and it was smaller than your palm. Naturally, our gastritis patient had to wait a minute.

The baby's name is Juan Ernesto Macario Guarcas. He's two months old, more or less, and weighs 4 1/2 pounds. The woman who brought him in is not his mother. Juan had been abandoned, probably for dead. Someone called her one day and told her that if she wanted a baby, she'd better come get him. He was clearly born quite premature and likely doesn't have the greatest chance in the world. He has survived two months, though, and seems to take a bottle well. We sent Juan and his adopted mom to the hospital in Quiche with a note explaining the situation (she doesn't speak Spanish). We'll go down later today to check on them.

And probably the saddest story we've had in a while is the story of Efrain Gregorio Villegas Lopez. He's 50 and lives here in Quiche. His wife brought him to ASELSI because she heard that we sent people to Antigua for surgeries. Efrain is a diabetic and is in probably the early stages of kidney failure. His sugar wasn't too bad (137), but he can barely walk due to the deep ulcers on both feet. He also has one on the back of his leg about the size of a coffee saucer. He's probably not too far from losing both legs.

His wife repeatedly asked if we could write him a note to get him his "dialysis surgery" in Guatemala City. We explained that dialysis is not a surgery, but really a process that will have to continue the rest of his life. She was very kind and caring to him and clearly desperate for help. We referred them to the hospital here in Quiche, too, for them to do some work on his largest ulcer on his leg (we took pictures, but we'll spare you!). We'll work with the Social Work office here at the hospital to see what can be done for him, but it looks like the end of the road isn't too far down.

Thankfully, he is saved and belongs to a church here in Quiche. One of the neat things about working at ASELSI is that they're also a Bible School so we had plenty of folks willing to minister to him and his family (all who speak Spanish as a first language - very helpful).

Sorry this turned out to be so long, but yesterday was a long day. Today we have some follow-up to do on some patients at the hospital and some more work around the house. We're going to buy some supplies to see if we can get our shower converted into a shower-bath for Heidi and the baby!!!!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Back to Work

Today was our first day back to one of our "solo" clinics this year- Chicabracan. This is a clinic that is held in a school in a tiny village outside Quiche. Previously, it was the only clinic we had that did not have an affiliation with a church or an evangelist of some sort.

We have hired a friend of Dr. Lisa Dunham's (our Family Practicioner friend in Chichicastenango) to come with us and witness to the people waiting in line for the clinic. His name, which we've mentioned before, is Juan Diego Lux (pronounced "Loosh").

We had about 25 patients today, two of which we thought had their diabetes under control but appear not to, four kids in one family with chicken pox, and several with allergies and body aches and pains. We did diagnose one pregnancy, though, which is always good when you're an OB/GYN.

One patient, however, stuck out a little bit. Her name is Isidra Alvarado Osono. We didn't recognize her, but she had seen Paul and Lindsey while they were doing our clinics for us for a few weeks while we were in the US for Christmas. Their note about her in the computer (what a GREAT donation that is turning out to be) was that she has had eight miscarriages and has lost four living children due to violence from her spouse. Since Paul and Lindsey are native Spanish speakers, we're pretty sure there wasn't anything lost in translation there. Even if she's a terrible historian and is way off on her numbers, that's still a horrible situation.

She was clearly a troubled woman. She had a hard time looking either one of us in the eye, spoke very softly, and followed every description of a physical complaint with a qualifier. Her stomach hurts, but it could be worse, etc.

We, of course, treated her for gastritis and some aches and pains (her right eye was swollen from a recent beating). We also brought Juan Diego in to talk to her and pray with her. Not only is he a super neat guy and a wonderful evangelist, he is from here and knows the people around here. He knew the village she's from and knew of a man there who could help her. She knows the man and, whether she seeks any help or not, at least has one more option in her mind. Please keep Isidra and her husband in your prayers.

Oh, and before we forget, we have dates for our first trip to the Ixcan with Duane and Leslie. Apparently, there is going to be a caravan of 15 or so people headed up there in February - by ground, unfortunately - to do some medical work and some repair work on the plane that's still sitting there. Duane, Aaron, and David should be back in the next week or so. Then it'll be time to start planning for a long, crazy drive. Thank God our truck seems to be in the best shape it's been in a while. It'll need to be!

Tomorrow we're going to be back at ASELSI in Chichicastenango. We hope to see our patient with breast cancer who, as of yet, has not consented to her surgery. We have been praying a lot for her and look forward to seeing she and her husband again.

Monday, January 22, 2007


Wow... what a great day this has been! We have literally had emails and phone calls pouring in from about the time we woke up this morning, offering support and condolences after our "Struggles" that we posted yesterday.

People have literally-- less than 24 hours after that post-- offered to replace, piece by piece and person by person, every item that we mentioned was missing. Thank you, thank you, thank you all for helping to restore our faith in humanity in such a beautiful and tangible way. This whole experience has served to remind us of many things, the most important of which is that God is still Good. We are also reminded that "stuff" is just "stuff", and that we often have way too much of it to begin with, anyway. (Check out the link to Katie Eleiott's blog for her most recent post, which speaks to this in a powerful way...) And, most importantly, good friends and family are good to have. We are truly blessed, rich, and lucky.

Today has been another wonderful day for playing "catch up" on emails, finances, and all kinds of beginning-of-the-year stuff. We also got some house-cleaning (much needed!) done, and were just able to spend some nice time together. Next week we will start our new schedule in full force, it looks like. We are trying to really appreciate the few days off we have had here lately, since we will have about three days off each month after Heidi starts working at the Buen Samaritano hospital!

Please pray for the Ficker family as they try to travel home through Mexico with several newly purchased vehicles and lots of great medical supplies this week. After recent experiences with landings, we're pretty glad to have Duane and the boys on the ground this week!

Also please pray for one of our clinic patients from San Andres this weekend-- her name is Yendi Blanco Reyes, and she is 16 years old. She has been to see us several times with her mom over the last few months, and we are truly stumped as to what her problem is. Apparently, for about two years now she throws up after every time she eats! She is not terribly malnourished, does not have any signs of bulemia, is not pregnant, and has not responded to several different attempts of medicine to help her problem.

She and her family have never set foot in a Church, and we are very worried about what might be stressing her out at home. There is a strong sense that her problem is really more spiritual/emotional than physical, but we are having a hard time to get her to open up to us. We did get a chance to talk to her with her mother out of the room this week, and she often looked like she was about to cry when asked about problems at home-- but then she would smile really big to cover it up and say everything was fine.

We prayed with her and her mom, and gave her our cell phone number in case she decides she wants to talk. Please pray for wisdom on our parts to ascertain what is truly the problem, and for God to open her heart on her part, so that she might know His love, peace, and salvation.

Tomorrow we will attend to some business at the hospital, and continue cleaning and organizing and getting ready for the week to get a lot busier starting Wednesday!

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Sometimes it's easier to give than others. For instance, when you're being stolen from, it's hard to have a giving heart. As we mentioned here last week, our truck was broken into in town. We knew that Matt's iPod had been stolen. But as we were packing for Canilla on Saturday morning, our emergency box seemed a little light. Apparently, when we lost the iPod, we also lost our toolbox, our spotlight, our scrubs, our inverter, our air compressor, and some assorted other things in there. All told, we probably lost $600-$700 worth of stuff.

Then, we went out to our outside storage room to replace the tools in the truck with the ones Matt's dad brought down in November and found that we had been robbed there, too. While we were gone in December, someone broke into our courtyard and stole all of the tools Matt's dad brought. The new drill, all the bits, all the tools, everything. It was a gift, so we don't know what the price was, but we're guessing we lost somewhere in the neighborhood of $1000 in the last little bit.

We've walked away from everything we know in the United States to come serve. And to think that what we're giving isn't enough for some people - that they feel the right to take even more - is pretty angering. It makes it very hard to have a servant's heart.

We have an idea who broke into the house, but without proof and with a police force that's ambivalent, at best, there's very little we can do. We will, of course, do a better job of locking things up. A razor wire fence simply doesn't look like enough. It's likely that they came over our roof from the front. Now we'll have to go up on the roof tomorrow and see what kind of damage they caused up there. (Our roof isn't really made for people who aren't being careful to walk on.)

So that's that.

We did have two clinics this weekend, which probably served as the best possible chance to "get back on the horse" and serve whether we felt like it or not. Both went very well. We had some fun times with the Fickers, as usual (of course, "the Fickers" also include Katie and Craig).

Duane, Aaron, David, and Martin will probably leave the US early this week with several semi trucks and drive through Mexico to arrive here about a week later. Duane obviously won't be flying their new donated plane back. It'll probably get sold to help pay for repairs to the one still sitting in the Ixcan, where it crashed about two months ago.

On the very good news front, we were invited to go see a work day in progress at the school that New Beginnings Resources is helping to build in San Pedro. (New Beginnings Resources is one of the groups that supports and works with Agape In Action.) Pastor Eliseo organized a work crew from his congregation to clean up around the grounds of the school. His congregation is mostly women and children - many of the area men do not attend church , but at least allow their spouses to.

Now to the pictures. The first picture is of the work area in front of the school. The second is a closer view of some folks cleaning and dragging stuff to the burn piles.

The third picture is of a man digging a trench (manually, of course) for the plumbing for the future bathrooms. And the fourth is a shot across the work area of the soon-to-be headmaster and his wife coming to check on the progress.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Administrative Day

Sometimes being a medical missionary is not very medical. That would be today.

The nice thing was that we didn't have to set an alarm this morning. We got up and did about 200 lbs of dishes from last night when we had an ambush dinner party. Yes, occasionally, Guatemalans will simply drop in. Last night, Paul and Lindsey stopped by and we had a wonderful visit with them. Luckily, we had enough dinner started to feed four. But, since we were having so much fun talking, we left the dishes for this morning.

Then we went down to the hospital and met with Dr. Patty, the sub-director, and started the process of getting all of the paperwork done for the teams that we have planned so far for 2007.

Most of the rest of the day was spent answering emails we'd put off til today, organizing cleft palate information, making new clinic forms, updating Palm stuff, and general organizing.

Matt went to the gym, stopping off just long enough to buy some milk and fresh flowers - and apparently long enough for some kind soul to break into our truck and steal the iPod that Heidi gave Matt as a wedding present. Of course, the man standing near the truck didn't see anything. And, since it's considered bad form for missionaries to choke information out of people, we're going to ask Carrie to buy us a new iPod and have it sent down.

We also got the word today that Duane, Aaron, and David were involved in another incident with a plane. Duane had flown to the US to look at a plane that someone was going to donate. Aaron and David were already there on some other business. The three of them were flying up to Chicago to meet their daughter Hannah when one of the two engines went out. Duane had apparently just gotten the plane on the ground when the other engine went out. Maybe this isn't the plane God wants them to have.

For any of you who don't believe in Satan, Duane can tell you for sure that he is real and that he is powerful. And he is not very excited about the work that the Fickers plan to do with this plane.

So please keep them in your prayers. We know that God has an answer to the plane situation but we obviously don't know what it is yet...

Tomorrow starts another clinic weekend in Canillá and San Andrés with Leslie, Katie, and Craig. WEE!!!!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Clinic at ASELSI

Today was our first day back at ASELSI since before we left for Christmas. It was good to be back. In case you're new or had forgotten, ASELSI is an American-run clinic in Chichicastenango. You can learn more about them on their new blog which is linked to on the right hand side of this page.

We saw a pretty fair number of patients today, including a bunch of prenatal patients and all seven of our cleft lip and palate kids!

It's more fun doing prenatal visits now than it was before. We can compare our progress to the patients we're seeing...

We did have one very interesting patient today. She told us she was 50, but she was being quite generous with that. Based on the fact that she only comes about halfway up on Matt's abs, we're guessing her height to be around 4'0". She weighs 78 lbs completely dressed (and it's cold out today - so she's probably in the low 70s for weight). She wasn't really sure why she was there, but she had an appointment. We called Sharon and Dr. Hoak, since Sharon's writing was on her appointment card and she was clutching a prescription for estrogen and vitamins from Dr. Hoak.

Her main complaint was gastritis. But that didn't jive with the appointment card or the prescription, so we asked a dozen more questions through our interpreter, who was equally baffled. At least we knew it wasn't a language barrier! Heidi did an abdominal exam on this woman who has a perfectly flat stomach at probably more than 60 years of age... and we guessed from that (and it was confirmed) that she's never had any children.

She said she had been told by a jornada (a medical team from the US) that she needed surgery, but had no idea why. We repeatedly asked if her uterus was falling out and she answered "no" every time. So we sent her home with some vitamins and some gastritis meds.

Shortly after that, Dr. Hoak called back. He had pulled her chart and she has a complete prolapse of her uterus! Go figure.

Anyway, the rest of our patients went much more smoothly. It was very nice to see everybody there again.

Now, for the pictures. The first picture is of Franco post op. He's crying, but he no longer has a big hole in his face. The second picture is of Maria. That grin on her mom is about the biggest we've ever seen on her. Maria has milk in her mouth, which seems to be completely normal for her. Look at those big chubby cheeks!!!!

The third picture is of Carlos Santos (sleeping) and the fourth is of Carolina (also sleeping). Keep in mind that the rest of these kids are a week and two days post-op and Carolina is only six days. All of the parents are doing great work with keeping the incisions clean and not bottle feeding their kids. They have one week to go on syringes, then they can go back to the bottle.

We'll post some more pre-op vs. post-op pictures some other time, probably, and each of you who sponsored a child will get a complete set of pics for your child (both pre- and post-op). We'll see the kids again in a month and will post some more pictures then. ALL of the parents are so happy with the results of the surgeries, as are we!

Tomorrow, we go down to the hospital and meet with the staff there to start planning for the teams who are coming in 2007.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Unexpected Trip

We spent last week in Antigua with the cleft palate families and we were back again last night. It wasn't a completely planned trip, but a nice visit nonetheless.

On our way back to Quiché from Antigua, we noticed that our truck wasn't acting just right. We had a fair amount of work done on it and had let it sit for nearly a month, so we weren't sure exactly what was wrong. Driving to Canillá for the weekend, though, was painful. We nearly didn't make it. Things were getting worse by the kilometer and, by the time we finally got there, our maximum engine rpms were about 2200 and we were spewing a massive trail of smoke. We looked like we fit right in - and not in a good way.

Duane and Matt worked on the truck for a good part of the afternoon, trying various things, and nothing really worked. We got it home from clinic on Sunday with lots of prayers and decided we wouldn't even try taking it to Nueva Santa Catarina on Monday - it's a three hour drive on one of the main highways in Guatemala. So we took our backup truck instead. The backup truck isn't in the greatest condition, either, though, so it was a rather long day.

We decided to take both of the trucks back to Antigua. We figured we were doubling our chances of making it. We left the grey truck with the mechanic who originally worked on it and took the green one (the backup) into the capital to get some new tires put on it (American owned store with free road hazard and a good guarantee).

We were lucky enough, while in the capital, to schedule our first OB visit for Heidi. Dr. Mario Ruata is a native Guatemalan who did medical school here in Guatemala but his residency in Dallas, Texas. Our Spanish is coming along quite nicely, but it's nice to have an English-speaking doctor. He spent about thirty minutes with us, got a very detailed history, did some explaining of various things (mostly for Matt's benefit, of course) and did an ultrasound. Everything looks good at 13 weeks and we got to hear our baby's heart beat for the first time. YAY! Now this is the part where you all get jealous. The visit cost about $30.

Well, with the extended doctor visit and Guatemala City traffic, we didn't get back to Antigua until after the shop had closed, so we spent another night in the Lazos Fuertes hotel. We had a wonderful breakfast this morning at the Doña Luisa restaurant (for less than $6) and got the truck back.

Matt had drained the entire fuel tank, changed out the filter, inspected the belts, and messed with a dozen other things on the engine and it was (drum roll, please).... a microfilter hidden inside the fuel pump. It's a pain in the rear to change, so it's not on the normal checklist. But, apparently, you need the little bugger to be clean. So $8 later, we were on the road.

The good news is that, starting in 2007, we have two trucks with brand new tires, and all new belts, fluids, filters, etc. on our main truck. Without transportation, we can do very little for the people we work with. And it LOOKS like we're in good shape now (knock on whatever is handy).

Ah, and a treat we hadn't counted on, we got to eat at Subway yesterday. Nothing like a good 30cm sub to get your day going!

Tomorrow we're at ASELSI. We're planning on seeing all of the cleft lip/palate kids for their follow-up visits. We'll take lots of pictures. (And since we've been gone about a month and a half there, it could be quite a long day - we'll pack a lunch.)

OOPS! Sorry this is getting rather long, but Duane Ficker flew back to the United States today to take a look at another plane that might fill the gap while they're working on the wrecked one. Please keep him in your prayers.

Monday, January 15, 2007

...And back to work again!

Since we last "talked", we have had the opportunity to complete our re-entry into Guatemalan life by doing a clinic every day for the last three days. Saturday in Canilla and Sunday in San Andres (both with the Fickers-- so great to see them again!), then today in Nueva Santa Catarina.

It's a three hour drive each way out to Nueva Santa Catarina, but we just can't resist going because of what the pastor we work with says is happening in his Church out there! He attributes a lot of the growth to the clinic, but we know that our clinic is really just a way for him to get his "foot in the door" of these people's lives and hearts and talk them in to coming to Church and meeting Jesus their Savior. His time spent ministering to them and in prayer for them during clinic is in most cases much more beneficial than any of the Tylenol or Sudafed that we're handing out...

Regular readers will remember this as the little wooden shack (literally!) of a Church high up in the mountains, where they were lucky to have 10 people attend on a good day. Today when we walked in, there were new benches/pews literally piled high in a corner to make room for the clinic to run-- apparently they were needed to accomodate the almost 50 people he said were there yesterday! Even with extra benches, there is no telling where they all could have possibly been seated. The picture below is of the Church to refresh your memory, although it's an old picture.

While it was nice to see some of our regular patients out there again, it's always interesting to see what new things will walk in the door. Today our most interesting patient was the last one of the day-- a ten year old boy who "cut his finger" with a machete yesterday while trying to chop firewood. After unwrapping his bandage, we could see that he actually meant that he "cut his finger nearly OFF"-- the tip of it anyway-- with said machete. He will certainly never again have a pinky nail on his left hand, but the family had cleaned it up pretty well considering. Hopefully with some antibiotic prophylaxis and some better cleaning and bandaging supplies, he will heal just fine. All of you who are the proud new owners of Guatemalan machetes received as Christmas gifts from us, though, take heed-- those things most assuredly CAN relieve you of any body parts that happen to get in their way!

Anyway, for any of you who were still worried about whether or not Jake had made it home Friday night, rest assured that he is back safe and sound and living the life of luxury which he has become quite accustomed to. He has not let us out of his sight at all when he can help it since he found us here Friday night! Says to tell you all, "hi", by the way...

Before signing off, we do have a prayer request that is a little different than the others we have posted here... Our truck, just out of the shop where it spent the month of December getting lots of "preventive" maintenance done, doesn't seem to have taken too well to all of these repairs. Or, in other words, it no longer seems to want to pull us up any of these mountains at more than 6 miles per hour! This is a big problem, especially considering that the three best mechanics we know (Aaron and David Ficker and their good friend Martin) are all in the States right now! We are going back to the shop in the City that did the repairs tomorrow, and we are very thankful to have the time and the support to be able to do that. But a little prayer never hurt, either-- And if you feel at all silly praying for a truck, don't worry-- we've all certainly prayed for sillier things before, and God has never once laughed (out loud, at least...) at any of our requests.

So we're off to Guatemala City and Antigua tomorrow-- hopefully we will be home tomorrow night, but that depends on what they say about the truck and how much time they need. Heidi was fortunate enough to get an OB appointment with the doctor we will be going to in the City for tomorrow also, so at least we get to accomplish that in the meantime. There's also always plenty of shopping to be done after being gone so long... Wish us luck!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Home, Sweet HOME!

While the last week has been a wonderful time with the families of the cleft lip and palate kids, we have to admit that finally coming home today has been by far the best part of the week! You will recall that we have been away from our own bed since December the 5th... so it was certainly a welcome sight this afternoon.

Luckily, the house was in pretty good shape (thanks in part to Paul, Lindsey, and Jacob helping to look after it while we were gone)... a little dusting needed and a LOT of laundry to be done, mostly. We are now mostly unpacked and already ready to settle in for the night-- are we getting old or what?! It's about 4:45 p.m. here...

Hopefully, Jake (our beloved and well-missed feline child) will come home around dinner-time as usual. Seeing him will pretty much complete our happy home-coming.

In other news, Baby Bell is now almost 13 weeks along in his or her development, and all seems to be going well. Heidi is getting a little sicker in the mornings and at night, but overall has still been pretty lucky to only be mildly affected by "morning sickness". We will be making an appointment with an OB/Gyn in Guatemala City who trained in Texas-- hopefully this month-- and seeing him from now on.

Tomorrow we will get up early like a "normal" Saturday for us and head out to Canilla for clinic and a much-anticipated reunion with the Ficker family! It was wonderful to be able to take so much time out over the holidays for time with friends and family and for rest-- But it also served to remind us how much we love what we are doing here and the people that we are so blessed to work with.

Pictures Re-Post #2

Again, to refresh your memory... Here is the picture of "maternal exhaustion" on the morning after surgery, then Otto on post-op day one (a little gorked, and with a bloody nose... but maybe dreaming of now being able to eat without food coming out of his nose each time he tries to swallow?!), then Carolina's sister carrying her out of the hospital-- don't forget she is actually several feet in FRONT of Matt in that picture! She is tiny...

Pictures Re-Post

Sorry about the pictures not seeming to want to show up from the posts below... Here is another attempt!

To refresh your memory, we have the Hospital Hermano Pedro with the beautiful volcano "Agua" in the background, then a shot of the waiting room for surgery, followed by two post-op pictures of "our" babies... Hope they posted a little better this time!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Cleft Palate Surgeries - Day 5

It's a terrible burden to have to hang out in such a beautiful city for a week and experience the joy of these families getting new faces for their kids. Occasionally, people ask us if it's hard to do what we do. It's hard to have to see more need than we can fill, but it is SO rewarding to see how God can help put broken lives back together!

And it's not like we're doing this alone, either. First, we are part of the world's most amazing team. They are based in Houston, Texas and work day and night (yes, it's not uncommon to see Ray in the office at midnight) to make money to support missions - not just this one in Guatemala, but others around the world, too.

And you'd be amazed how many people are doing wonderful work here in Guatemala. The hotel we are staying at, for instance, is called the Posada Lazos Fuertes. ( All of the profits from this hotel go to a group called Safe Passage, who works with kids they find digging in garbage dumps for food.

Of course, there's the Hospital Hermano Pedro itself ( and the group, Faith in Practice, that coordinates a team here EVERY WEEK ( The hospital does over 3,600 surgeries a year. That's ten a day, every day, year round.

And when the families are here for their surgeries, it's not like they can afford a hotel (even though ours is less than $50 a night). So there's the equivalent of a Ronald McDonald House. It's called Casa de Fe and it's also supported by Faith in Practice. Families here receive lodging and dinner every day for free. They are the nicest people here and work very hard to help the families do everything they need to to get their surgeries. Example: Regina's 14 year old daughter wanted to go to the hospital last night because the baby was crying. Minors are not allowed to leave the Casa unattended, so they got the lady who lives across the street to walk her 12 blocks to the hospital.

And, of course, this trip would not have been possible without the surgical team. The team is called Medical Missions for Children ( We have seen them basically every morning in post-op while they round on "our" kids and they are always very friendly and upbeat and clearly love what they're doing.

Between the Social Work office, Casa de Fe, and the team itself, they have arranged to move Carolina's surgery up to today. (Her brother's surgery was yesterday and hers was originally scheduled for tomorrow.) The only problem was that Ana Maria didn't apparently understand the change (we're not sure how thorough her comprehension of Spanish is). So we've now made the trip between the hospital and the Casa de Fe "a few" times (and it's a long walk when you're carrying babies and 3 year olds), but at this very moment, Regina is waiting with Carolina in the hospital. Her surgery should be this afternoon. That'll be the last one on this trip!

And it's not just medical people doing great work here. Our friend and travel agent, Real, is working today to get fresh tires on our truck. We left it here while we were in the United States for Christmas and he got a bunch of preventative maintenance done on it (it has about 80,000 hard miles on it - most of them off-road) but the right tires were not to be found. They came in on a container yesterday and he's getting them put on today. Not too many travel agents in the US would do that for you!

Well, that's it for today. Hopefully our next post will be from our house in Quiche and it will tell you that all went well with Carolina's surgery and our trip home...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Cleft Palate Surgeries - Day 4

This morning we were back at the Hospital Hermano Pedro at about 6:30 to meet Regina, Ana Maria, Otto, and Carolina for Otto's surgery and to see the five families whose kids were operated on yesterday.

We got to meet the surgical team when they came through on rounds and trade contact info with them. We'll be sending them some 'after' pictures of the kids. Normally, they ask the patients to come back in on Friday for a check-up, but since our families are from so far away and because Heidi will be looking after them at ASELSI, they agreed to let us skip that. So the five families went home today and will come see us in clinic a week from tomorrow (already January 18!!! - where has this year gone already?)

Otto got his surgery this morning. It felt like a 20 hour wait, even for us - we had books to read - but Regina and Ana Maria were unbelievably patient. Heidi and I decided that we would not make good Guatemalans. These people have a seemingly unlimited ability to WAIT for things to happen!

Anyway, Otto came through okay. Regina is going to stay with him tonight at the hospital, so we walked Ana Maria and Carolina back to the Casa de Fe where they're staying (it's about 12 blocks and Ana Maria is only 14 and has a lot of stuff to carry and has never been in a city this big and..... you see where this is going).

More pics today. The first is exciting for a couple of reasons. Since we threw a couple of bucks the families' way (and we mean a couple - we handed out somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 to each family for "meals and stuff"), most of the families used at least some of their money to buy a toy and a new outfit for the baby. Normally, kids here will never have a new toy in their entire life. This sounds made up but it really isn't. Think about what was under your Christmas tree. The Fischer-Price train you see in the first picture is likely the only NEW toy, out of the box, that this family will ever purchase, no matter how many kids they have. We were also very excited to see some of the dads tearing tags off of new outfits. New face, new clothes. How exciting!!!

The Mayan women, especially, tend to be very stoic. You don't see too many smiles from most of them (Regina being the clear exception!). But today, we saw a smile on even the most stoic of all the moms. She commented to us that her baby looked very different and smiled a real smile!

Not that it's all been wine and roses. These kids have just undergone what must be a relatively painful surgery and are not allowed a bottle for a few days. They can be fed with a syringe, but it's just not the same. And you parents know what that means - the moms probably didn't get much sleep last night. The second pic is of one of the moms demonstrating a little exhaustion!

The third pic is Otto, post-op. The palate surgeries aren't as spectacular, but just as important. You can see the stitch they put through his tongue and taped to his cheek. They'll remove that in the morning. One of the nurses explained to us that that's to save his life in case of some swelling that might start to impede his airway. They can use the stitch to pull his tongue out of the way and help him breathe. I never would have thought of that....

The fourth pic is of Ana Maria carrying Carolina out of the hospital, on our way back to Casa de Fe. She looks quite a bit shorter than me. The perspective in the picture is a little misleading. She's actually quite a bit shorter than she looks - she's in front of me by probably six feet! But never complains and is always helpful, patient, and cheerful - just like any other teenager, right?

Well, we go back tomorrow morning to get Otto's post-op instructions and to set Regina and her family up for a "free day". More later!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Cleft Palate Surgeries - Day 3

Hmm... Attempt #2. If this approximate same post shows up twice, it's because we're dealing with technical difficulties. If not, then this was our first try, no problem.

This morning we met all of our families at the hospital at 6:30. The kids were all fasting as directed. Babies who aren't allowed to eat when they want to make a lot of noise. Heidi and I made a note of this.

The team is running two operating rooms at a time and we aren't the only people here, so it took a little while, but all of the kids got called back before noon. Only one of the moms was visibly shaken to have to hand over her baby and wait outside, but this particular mom only has one living child (they lost one previously) and is a bit protective.

At 2:00pm (visiting hours) we got to go back to recovery and check on all five kids (they were all done with their surgeries by then). They look great and the parents are very excited to see at least the start of a brand new face! The palate surgeries have less visible marks, but the lip surgeries all result in a few dissolvable sutures and some tape across their lips. The kids are pretty groggy but starting to wake up.

The team that did these surgeries is from Boston. We got to meet a couple of them in the recovery room and they are so nice! It turns out that the guys who organize this spend a week every month in a different country around the world doing exactly this. Read that again, it's not a typo. One week a month. Africa, India, South America, Guatemala, etc. We'll get more info on them tomorrow and share that with you. What amazing people!

Thanks to what we're sure was some very extensive prayer coverage, Regina showed up at the hospital at 3:00pm today with both Carolina and Otto, along with her 14 year-old daughter (who will help her care for them when they have to be separated). She was beaming, as usual, and seemed very happy to see the other families. They also seemed quite relieved to see her. One of the other dads very quietly slipped her a cell phone and some cash (we had to take her back to the hostel they're staying at while the families spent more time with their kids). It's so wonderful to see folks from different communities pulling together like this.

Anyway, tomorrow morning, we meet Regina and Otto at the hospital at 6:30 for Otto's surgery, then we'll meet the team at 7:00 when they round on the kids. Then we'll try to figure out how we get our truck back and make some decisions about how long we stay here in Antigua...

We're staying at a different hotel now (nicer AND cheaper - who could resist that?) and we have wireless internet, so here are some pics.

The first is of the Hospital Hermano Pedro in front of the volcano Agua. The hospital is almost 500 years old but has had a few upgrades in that time, so all is well.

The second is of the waiting room on Sunday. Matt and Sharon are visible in the foreground. Be sure to check out ASELSI's new blog (linked to on the right side of this page).

The third and fourth pictures are of two of the babies post-op. We have lots more pics, but only four per post....

Monday, January 08, 2007

Cleft Palate Trip - Day 2

Today is our "dia de libre", or "free day". Except that it hasn't been very free just yet.

Last night, we got back to our room about 5:30 and went to bed. Really.

This morning we got up and went to our travel agent's office to pay nearly $2000 in bills there (truck repairs, hotels, ground transport, etc.) Not that big a deal, all budgeted, but funny on our "free day".

We'll change hotels today - which, without a truck, could be interesting. We only have about six bags and boxes to cart around (we've been living out of suitcases for a month now and we have lots of pharmaceuticals and goodies to lug around, too).

We'll also be looking for a place to watch Ohio State stomp on Florida tonight (or so we hope). Luckily, Antigua is a tourist town and there are plenty of satellite TV connections here.

Keep praying for Regina and her family. She has a big journey ahead of her tomorrow.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Cleft Palate Surgeries - Day 1

After our last entry yesterday afternoon, we had a chance to go to dinner with Sharon and Virginia from ASELSI and actually talk! Normally when we see each other, it's on a clinic day and we're running 100mph...

This morning at 6:30, we met all the families at the Hospital Hermano Pedro and began the process of getting the kids set up for surgeries. We'll spare you all the details of where and how long we waited for each of the dozen steps, but we'll say this: the team is awesome! They are all very energetic and helpful and friendly.

We had 9 kids here for surgery. Seven will get their surgeries this round. One (Fredy) was deemed to be too small by the anesthesiologist. We were a little afraid of that, but the fact that they're being selective makes us feel much better about the prognosis for the others. Fredy's parents were told not to worry, but if they can put two or three more pounds on him by May, he will probably get his surgery then. (He's gained 2 1/2 lbs since November, so this seems do-able.)

One little boy (who we had not written about before) had already received his lip and palate surgeries, but the parents were concerned that he still has a small hole in his palate. Since it's not really creating any problems for him, they were told to wait for a while and see what happens. If he develops problems, we'll get him another surgery. If not, all is well.

The rest of the kids will get their surgeries this week. Five will get theirs on Tuesday, so those families are staying here. For whatever reason, Regina's two kids get theirs on Wednesday and Friday. It's nearly a free surgery so we're very thankful but it's not the MOST convenient option. We had to send Regina, Carolina (her daughter), Otto (her son), and her sister-in-law back home. Luckily, a man was here who offered to give them a ride in his truck to Chinique, from which it's a short hop to their home. They will come back on Tuesday.

So those of you who donated money know what neat stuff is happening here, we have been able to donate a good amount of money to the hospital for each child, plus we are taking care of all of their traveling expenses, including diapers (none of these parents normally use diapers), water to drink, restaurant food (which they are all VERY excited about - not one molecule of food ever gets left on a plate), and since tomorrow is a "free day" for them, a per diem of about $13 per family, which should cover breakfast, lunch, and perhaps a little souvenier from their trip. They were all very excited to get that, since it's about three times what each dad usually makes in a day of working in the fields.

So that's that. We are taking lots of pictures, but we're at an internet cafe right now and it's not easy to post them. The sponsors will all get plenty of pictures and the rest of you will get to see a few when we get back home and can post "normally" again.

Please keep Regina and her family in your prayers. She has to get all the way home tonight, then come back with THREE of her kids on Tuesday (the two who need surgery and her 14 year old daughter who is going to help her out, since the two kids will be separated - her sister-in-law couldn't come back - she has kids of her own!) Regina has never really left the area around her home before and will have to make a several hour bus trip (with some transfers) while keeping track of three kids!!!! She will need lots of prayer coverage, but we know ya'll are up to the task.

More later....

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Estamos Aqui

We've arrived safely in Guatemala with all of our stuff. We almost got bumped off the plane this morning (for two first class tickets tomorrow and $500 each) but didn't manage to capitalize on that deal.

And the construction between Guatemala City and Antigua turned a normally 45 minute drive into more than two hours, but we're here and typing from an internet cafe in Antigua.

Anyway, that's it. Heidi is checking in with the cleft palate families as I type and we'll see how that goes. We're looking forward to an early bedtime tonight!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Hello Texas

So we're back to our "old" home (Texas) after spending a few weeks in other places we've called home throughout the years.

Thanks so much to everyone we spent time with, lived with, swiped cars from, and stole food from. Our time here has been awesome!

We've gotten to see a new niece and a growing niece and nephew. We got to see Bethany and Russell's new baby, Tye. We've gotten to see grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers, and sisters. Not to mention friends who've grown so close they might as well be family, too.

We've gotten to see lots of sports: Cleveland Cavaliers basketball, Spartan basketball, Tarheel basketball, Hurricane hockey, and Catawba Indians basketball. Plus several football games on television (which is the best way to watch football in the dead of winter!)

We've gotten wonderful gifts, from music software to flannel sheets, DVD players to maternity clothes, plus money (which always fits and is the perfect color) and tons of donations to our mission. We are truly blessed.

Tomorrow we do some packing, some last minute shopping, then drive to Beaumont for dinner with friends and one last gig in town.

Saturday morning sees us flying back to our new home in Guatemala and four or five days with our cleft palate kids and their families. (Easing back into life in Central America.)

And we're at 11 weeks and 4 days ourselves. Please pray lots for Heidi and Baby Bell...