Poverty affects large sectors of the population in each of the nine countries where Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos serves. Mexico, where NPH was first established in 1954, is often seen as one of the more developed countries in the region, with the second-biggest economy in Latin America based on GDP. Despite this, millions of Mexicans still live in poverty-stricken conditions. According to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policies (CONEVAL) in Mexico, 52.4 million of the 125 million Mexican population in 2018 lived in poverty, with 9.3 million living in extreme poverty.
The cycle of poverty can begin due to a lack of financial resources. However, this often escalates to a lack of access to education and high drop-out rates, difficulties in finding steady employment, poor living conditions and diets, amongst other issues, many of which can lead to poor health and life-threatening illnesses. With up to 16.2% of Mexicans living with no access to healthcare, it only exacerbates the social issues that those in poverty have to live with.
The increase in Mexicans living in extreme poverty has multiple consequences in all areas, specifically on maternal and child health. Many women are not aware of the need to monitor their pregnancy, and in many cases, clinics in rural areas are scarce or do not have the staff or equipment to provide the necessary treatment to pregnant women for the proper development of the baby from its gestation. Without this care and follow-up, congenital anomalies, also known as birth defects, are more likely to develop.
At NPH Mexico, there are over 591 children and youths living in the three homes in Cuernavaca and Miacatlan in Morelos, and in Monterrey in north-east Mexico. All are fully supported with quality healthcare thanks to a professional medical team and clinic who caring for children and adults of all ages, two of which we focus shall focus on below.
Hector is 5-years-old. He arrived at NPH Mexico when he was 11-months of age from the city of Iguala, located 81 kilometers from Casa San Salvador where he now lives. Iguala is in the state of Guerrero, one of the poorest states in Mexico, where 26.8% of the population lives in extreme poverty. Hector’s mother is 33 and has other nine children, while his father works as a 31-year-old electrician, but his income isn’t enough to support the family. Unable to support their children’s basic needs, the courts decided that Hector and six of his siblings should move to NPH Mexico.
Like all children who enter NPH, Hector received an in-depth medical examination to determine his health status. He was in good health and carried no infectious illnesses. However, the doctors already knew that Hector had “polydactyly”, a genetic disorder characterized by having more than five fingers or toes, which affects one in every 500 to 1,000 children.
In Hector’s case, he had an extra finger on his left hand and an extra toe on each foot. While the condition didn’t cause Hector any noticeable pain, it can cause severe deformities and development issues later in life. If a child has an extra finger or a bump on the hand the surgery is usually carried out before the child enters school. If the child has an extra digit on the foot, it is best to operate before the child begins to walk. As Hector, a very active and happy child, was already almost a year old when he entered NPH, the NPH medical staff decided to act fast and took him to the ABC Medical Center, one of the country’s top private hospitals, located in Mexico City, almost 90 kilometers away from Casa San Salvador, where he received medical consultations from traumatology specialists to initiate the surgery.
Doctor Michell Perez, a doctor at NPH Mexico, says, “The surgery was carried out in December 2016. Afterwards, Hector remained with us at the clinic at Casa San Salvador for three weeks, where the nurses and the doctor provided the care and attention needed to help his wounds heal quickly. We could also help him with rehabilitation and monitor him.”
In January 2017, Doctor Michell Perez took Hector back to the ABC Hospital for a routine check-up and to make sure the wounds from the surgery had healed. Thanks to the professional care from NPH Mexico, the pediatricians and orthopedists were satisfied with Hector’s recovery and discharged him from the ABC Medical Center.
“Today, Hector is 5-years-old and lives a very happy life. He loves to play!” says Doctor Michell, smiling. “We do frequent check-ups to check on his development and bone structure in his feet and hands. In the future, he might need surgery on his feet to reduce the bone size of the additional limbs to avoid any discomfort with the rubbing in the shoes. But besides that, we are happy with his progress.”
Today, Hector insists that his favorite colors are blue and black, and his favorite room in the world is the toy room at Casa San Salvador. He remains curious and free-spirited, and his older brother Oswaldo is his best friend.
“Thank you for looking after me,” concludes Hector, with a little wave.
Hermana Mayor (Elder Sister) Teresa Rivera is affectionally known as “Tere” at NPH Mexico. She arrived at Casa San Salvador when she was 11 years old, in 1985, not long after a major earthquake in Mexico.
There is little known about Tere’s family, other than they struggled financially to support her. She has three sisters, although she is unsure of their whereabouts. Before arriving at NPH, much of her early life was spent in transition living in various hospitals in the state of San Luis Potosí, approximately 530 kilometers north of Miacatlán, Morelos. In one of these hospitals, she met a generous family with a strong economic background who sought to support Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos and brought her to the home.
Tere suffers from various illnesses, the main one being Rheumatoid Arthritis (functional class 4) and Sjören’s Syndrome; the latter of which is an autoimmune disease that affects the lacrimal and salivary glands, which produces moisture for the body. This also impacts other organs, such as the lungs, kidneys, and the nervous system, with other symptoms including dry skin, joint pain, numbness, a chronic cough, and fatigue, amongst others.
Tere’s condition is “chronic degenerative”, meaning there is no cure. Nonetheless, Tere receives medical treatment to help her live with her special needs a little more easily. The nurses receive strict instructions on feeding, medication, and bathing. She receives physiotherapy from a volunteer and a private therapist, as well as receiving annual check-up with an internist doctor. “I have a great relationship with the nurses; especially the weekend nurse at Miacatlan. She is like family to me; we have been friends for over 20 years.”
“Without NPH, I don’t know what would have happened to me,” Tere smiles. “It is home. The children come to visit me and we talk about many things. They often ask, “What was Father Wasson like?” All I can say is that I feel so grateful to him. He motivated me and inspired me to take opportunities given to me. “You have everything here,” he used to tell me.”
At 47-years-old, Tere is very happy at NPH. She looks back fondly on the caregivers, volunteers, donors, and sponsors who she has met during her 36 years at NPH. She loves attending the events, such as the anniversaries, “quinceañera” celebrations, and mass with Father Philip Cleary.
“I live in the Women’s Clinic at Casa San Salvador. The nurses and doctors support me, but they are also family. And in turn, I try to be family and a role model to the children, like Father Wasson was to me.”
Hector and Tere are just two of thousands of cases at NPH Mexico, where children and young people have access to professional medical support. This would not have been made possible without the generosity of NPH fundraisers and donors.
*Children’s names have been changed to protect the privacy of the youth.
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