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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkVallarta Living | June 2009 

IFC Cleft Palate Program: Making Miracles
email this pageprint this pageemail usPolly G. Vicars - PVNN

Your donations are instrumental in creating new faces for these children. To contribute to the IFC's Cleft Palate program, please contact medical chairperson Patricia Mendez at (329) 298-1767, send an email to ifcvallarta(at), or visit
This is a chapter from my second book, "More Tales of Retirement in Puerto Vallarta and Around the World" published in 2000 and for sale in many locals in Puerto Vallarta with all proceeds going to Becas Vallarta, A.C.

This chapter gives you the genesis of the incredible cleft palate program started by Celia and Ron Walker and the IFC. Amazingly, Dr. Ezequiel Fuentes, the head surgeon of Guadalajara's Institute of Reconstructive Surgery, is still volunteering his time and expert services to help the children from his area to live full and meaningful lives.

When Carmen De La Torre had to give up her stint as chair of the IFC committee, Patricia Mendez and Joanne Quickstad took over and have expertly and lovingly headed the program ever since. For more information on the current program, call the IFC at (322) 222-5466.

Husband and I joined Puerto Vallarta's International Friendship Club within weeks of retiring here in 1988. Neither of us had been "club" people in our busy lives in Lexington, Kentucky, but the word was that the projects of this organization, especially the Cleft Palate Program, were not the run-of-the-mill projects of your usual club, but those that made dramatic differences in the lives of the people in the community, and I distinctly heard the word milagro (miracle) more than once.

With our interest piqued, we went to founders of the Cleft Palate Program, prominent and well-loved Vallartenses, Celia and Ron Walker. Celia told us that when she and Ron married in 1984, they began dividing their time between Guadalajara, where they maintained a home, and Puerto Vallarta.

In Vallarta, they quickly became active in the community, and soon Celia was asked to be on the Patronato, the Board of Directors, of the Regional Hospital. (In 1987, she was elected president of this prestigious board, a signal honor for this Tapatia turned Vallartense.)

In their work at the Hospital, they encountered many children born with cleft palate and/or cleft lip. Disturbed and curious, Celia investigated and discovered that the disfiguring birth defect, whose cause is still not clearly understood, was inexplicably prevalent in this area. She also found that, while the defect could usually be corrected with a series of surgeries, there were no surgeons or facilities for this in Vallarta.

Further complicating matters, most of the afflicted children were from families with low economic resources, prohibiting them from taking the repeated trips to Guadalajara, the nearest city with hospitals equipped to perform the surgeries. Consequently, Celia and Ron learned that, in most cases, Vallarta's children just learned to live with their debilitating disorder, and its attendant problems.

This just would not do! The Walkers were so determined to find a way for Vallarta's kids to get the medical help that would enable them to live happy and healthful lives, that they arranged to take several of the children to Guadalajara, opening their home to them and their families.

But they knew this was just a stop-gap solution - they had to find a way to bring the surgeries to Puerto Vallarta. Dr. Ezequiel Fuentes, the head surgeon of Guadalajara's Institute of Reconstructive Surgery, overheard Celia telling of her search for a cleft palate program in Vallarta. He immediately introduced himself, proclaimed his interest in helping, and soon, a cleft palate/cleft lip reconstruction program was destined for Puerto Vallarta.

They worked out a schedule where he, bringing his team of doctors and nurses (with no charge for their professional services,) would fly in from Guadalajara every three months, consult with the prospective patients and their families, perform as many surgeries as time permitted, and enlist the local medical community for follow-up. Celia and Ron, ecstatic at their luck in finding Dr. Fuentes, promised a hospital for the surgeries, and a sponsor for the program.

The Walkers, members of the newly formed IFC (remember, this was in 1986,) felt secure that its sponsorship of a cleft palate program was practically assured, and Celia, on the board of the Regional Hospital, knew she could count on them for facilities and staff. She says it was pan comido, easy as pie!

The International Friendship Club immediately agreed to adopt the cleft palate program as one of its prime projects, and to pay for the air transportation and expenses of the team while in Vallarta. The Regional Hospital replied with, "Mi casa es su casa!" Everything was set. Celia was named Chairman of the IFC's Hospital Committee (No good deed ever goes unpunished!) and she did all the scut work necessary to start such an important program.

She obtained the cooperation of the local newspapers and radio stations to publicize the fact that the Doctors would be in Vallarta for consultations with the children with cleft palate or cleft lip. The first consultation brought only 5 or 6 families, contrasting with this month's more than 40.

So in 1987, Dr. Fuentes and his team, with the help and cooperation of the staff of the Regional Hospital, and under the sponsorship of the International Friendship Club, performed 3 cleft palate/cleft lip operations on children ranging in age from 6 months to 6 years. The program was off and running.

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