"Children born with cleft palate have a 15-fold increase in mortality compared with the regional East of England infant mortality rate and at least a 10-fold increase when compared with other clefts. Paediatricians should be involved in the care of these complicated patients." (Cleft Palate Craniofac J. 2012 Jul)
That statement is true in a society where pediatricians are available and where parents can afford to pay for medical care and surgery. If not, the kids who are born with cleft palates die. Here in Puerto Vallarta, thankfully, there's free surgical help that lets kids live and lead normal lives.
In 1985 Celia and Ron Walker, who were residents of Puerto Vallarta, learned that a friend's baby had been born with a cleft palate, knew she needed surgery, went searching for a surgeon – and found him in Guadalajara. Soon, the word spread and they had more children to help than they could transport. Ron then thought to ask the surgeon to come to PV every three months. He agreed and, thirty years later, the Cleft Palate Program is still the flagship program of the International Friendship Club (IFC).
The IFC launched their first Home Tour that year and the rest is history as the home tours raise thousands of dollars each year to make sure this program endures. For more about the tours that fund this program you can go to ToursForVallarta.com.
Four times a year for the last thirty years a team of surgeons, an anesthetist and nurses fly from Guadalajara to Vallarta, assess the patients they have treated before and decide what help the new ones need. The next day they move into the CMQ operating theaters and perform the surgeries required.
In a tremendous show of compassion because the surgeons and nurses donate their time and CMQ donates its operating theaters, nursing care and anaesthesia. However, the costs of the flights from and to Guadalajara, the meals and accommodation for the surgical team and the medical supplies that are used must all be paid for by IFC's team.
In mid-February, at the quarterly get-together of patients, families and medical staff at the IFC clubhouse, I met Nicole Bachmann, a lovely lady from Cruz de Huanacaxtle. Eleven years ago Nicole found out she was pregnant, went for an ultrasound after her fourth month, and was told that her baby had a cleft lip. A couple of ladies in Bucerías, Patricia Mendez and Joann Quickstep, comforted her and told her about IFC's cleft palate program.
When Delfina, Nicole's daughter, was five months old she had her first surgery under the direction of Dr. Fuentes. Now, ten years later, she has had five more surgeries and could possibly need others.
Nicole told me that when Dr. Fuentes first closed Delfina's palate the baby struggled and struggled for three days because she thought she was suffocating but, eventually, settled down. Because Delfina was unable to generate enough suction to breast feed and because her cleft palate made it difficult to swallow, her mother bought a soft feeding bottle and teats used to feed lambs from a veterinarians' supply house. Then she could pump and use the lamb's bottle to get milk into her daughter.
The good news is that Delfina now looks like a normal ten-year-old and Nicole knows that Dr. Fuentes is "the best doctor in the world" and "all volunteers at IFC are angels." Nice!
The cleft palate team really is changing lips and saving lives.The International Friendship Club is a registered charitable organization in Mexico listed as Club Internacional de la Amistad de Puerto Vallarta A.C. It is located at the northeast corner of the Rio Cuale Bridge above the HSBC Bank, Colonia El Centro, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico, 48300. Phone: 322-222-5466. Website: ifcvallarta.com Email: ifcvallarta(at)gmail.com