Helping Alma Get Back on Her Feet

I first met Alma Beatriz (affectionately called Cariño--loved one by her dad, since she was born on Valentine's Day twelve years ago) last August when I went with Dick to visit Dr. Will Bogel, a friend of ours who serves as a volunteer doctor at the hospital in San Lucas Toliman, up at Lake Atitlan.  We knew that in  February Will would be hosting a team of surgeons who would be doing corrective surgery on feet and ankles.  Dick had met Alma at a seating clinic at Hope Haven here in Antigua, and thought she would be a good candidate to receive surgery from this team.  The first step was for her to be evaluated by Doctor Will.

Dr. Will and Dick looking at Alma's x-rays
After his examination, Dr. Will said that he believed surgery would indeed help Alma, but that it would be a long process.  Her right foot, which was the most severe, would be operated on this February.  Because she would need extensive surgery on both feet, she would have to wait until February, 2014 for her left foot to be operated on.  He has every reason to believe, though, that after these surgeries she would be able to walk  unimpeded for the first time in her life.

Plans were made for Alma and her parents to return to San Lucas the first Saturday in February to be seen by the entire surgical team, and, God willing, her surgery would take place later the following week.  On Saturday, January 26th, Dick wanted to take a drive out to Alma's to make sure her parents remembered the appointment.  We were happy to find that they had been in contact with Dr. Will already, but somewhat concerned that Mom had needed to call him because the sore on Alma's foot had become infected.  Would this mean she couldn't have surgery in February?  Mom told us Dr. Will had prescribed a strong antibiotic, but really wanted to see her to take a look at her foot first hand.  

Unfortunately Dick would be traveling this next week and could not take her.  I was sure I could find a shuttle to take them up, though it would be pricey.  It was obvious to me, however, that her mom could not get her on an off of the three buses needed to travel to San Lucas from their home in Supongo, near Antigua.  Dick came up with the idea of Mom and Alma saying with me the following Sunday night (he could bring them down that evening before he left on his trip), and the shuttle could then pick them up at our house and take them up to the Lake.  I had hoped to find a communal shuttle that ran to San Lucas, but the closest we could come was one to San Pedro or Panajachel.  Mom and Alma could take a boat across the Lake, but I was sure, once again, that Alma was too heavy for mom to carry to the dock, let alone get onto a boat.  Our only recourse was to hire a private shuttle which would cost about $125, but, given the urgency of getting this infection cleared up before the team arrived, I decided it was a good investment.  (Donations to our designated medical funds enable us to help people in this way.  Thanks to all you who have contributed!)

Mom and Alma at our dining room table
Mom could not believe I would not charge them to stay at my house!  I told them they were more than welcome--the only catch was they would have to eat "gringa food."  They laughed and thought they could manage.  They arrived later Sunday night, loaded down with avocados for us. We had some wonderful visits before they left for the Lake on Monday morning.  Their family is Catholic, but attends an evangelical church in their area.  Mom shared with me that she had a desire to accept Christ as her Savior, but that her husband had forbidden her to do so.  (There is a lot of fear among Catholics here that if they accept Christ they cannot remain in the Catholic Church.)  It was wonderful to be able to share with mom and Alma that I myself had been Catholic when I accepted Jesus as my Savior, and continued to worship in a Catholic Church.

Doctor Will was able to successfully treat her foot with antibiotics, and surgery was able to move ahead as scheduled.

Her dad was able to go with her and her mom the day of surgery, so they road the bus up to the hospital in San Lucas Toliman.  (This hospital was founded by a priest from Oklahoma, and has a rich history here in Guatemala.  His partner, Father Stan, was a pastor in Santiago, Atitlan, who was murdered by the Army during the Civil War.  Being here is like touching a bit of history.)

Dick and I, however, were able to go up and pick her up the Saturday after her surgery.  I was so glad we had done so, since her foot was in a "halo cast" made up of steel rods, and there is no way she could have made it home on the bus, even with both her parents.  (This family is so unassuming.  Dad had traveled back to our area after surgery on Tuesday, but returned on the bus early this morning to help us take Alma home.  He didn't even think to ask us for a ride, and it never occurred to us that he'd need a ride.)

Alma, in the front seat of Dick's car, on her way home.  Amazingly, she said she was not in any pain.  It hurt me just to look at her foot, but she is a real trooper.

Alma was feeling well enough on the way home that we were able to stop for lunch at a restaurant that overlooks the lake.  Great treat for the family.

When we got back to Supongo, "Dick MacGuyvered" her current wheelchair so that she could use it with her new, larger foot.

While she is not done with this yet, we are well on the way to seeing her be able to walk.  She has been back three times since surgery to see Dr. Will, and the surgery has been very successful.  This month she is due to have the rods removed, and she is currently able to bear some weight on the foot though it is still in the cast.

She actually is looking forward to her next surgery next February, after which she should be able to walk without pain for the first time in her life.

Thank you, Dr. Will Bogel, for all your work here in Guatemala, and for facilitating the surgical team which made Alma's treatment possible.

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