I met many people during my time in Ciénaga that came through the clinic and operating room. There were a few that I spent time with in their homes before and after their experience with the Medical Ministry International team. As the final installment regarding this trip, here are a few of their stories.
Of all the people I encountered in the Ciénaga area, Alfredo’s story was the most heart-wrenching. The father of four, he lost his young wife after complications from their last son’s birth. He sent his daughter to live with his sister in Bogotá and raised his three sons in their modest home. In 2008, one son was murdered at the age of 28. He was a motorcycle taxi driver who made a fatal decision when he picked up a certain customer. When Alfredo showed me the newspaper that detailed his son’s death on the front page, the headlines read, “One man asked him for a ride and paid with a bullet. He did not rob one cent.” Tragedy struck again in 2013, when his youngest son, Erasmo, was with a friend in Alfredo’s back yard. Someone entered the yard and assassinated them both. The target had been Erasmo’s friend; he was killed because he was a witness. This last death, in particular, has left a lasting mark on his father’s life, and has also left Alfredo to fear for his safety in his home. His oldest son lives in nearby Santa Marta, but because he has a large family of his own, Alfredo spends much of his time alone.
Alfredo had come to the clinic needing cataract surgery but fearful of spending money on anything other than a cell phone plan so that he could call out if he was ever in danger. Thankfully, the doctors and staff at the clinic were able to convince him that his safety was also compromised if he could not see. While the surgeries typically cost ~1 month’s wages, there are funds set aside for cases like Alfredo’s so that people who are in need do not go without a surgery because of financial limitations.
The light of his life now is a neighbor down the street, Marisa. She and her husband run a corner store in the neighborhood. They had moved into the area to flee the violence that had crippled her small hometown. Marisa is the mother of six and jokes that Alfredo is her seventh child. He would sweep the floors of her store before it opened each day when he was able, and she brings him meals to his home everyday when he’s not with her family at the store. While they are no substitute for the family he lost, Marisa and her family provide him needed care and support.
A smile was on young Alejandro’s face every time that I met him. He came to the clinic with his mother with a crossed eye (strabismus). An avid student, he likes every subject in school and dreams of becoming a doctor. The surgery caused him to miss school the week that I met him, but he was looking forward to returning the following week, now that the kids there would have no reason to make fun of him.
When Lindrys was 17, a friend had an eye removed because of an infection caused by rat droppings getting in the eye when he was cleaning off a roof. At that point Lindrys vowed to her mother that if she ever lost an eye, she would take her own life. Two weeks later, she and a cousin were in a horrible car accident. Lindrys’s head hit the dashboard, causing extensive damage to the right side of her face….and the loss of her right eye. Fearful about her recent promise, her family opted to keep the eye loss from Lindrys. It was not until she caught a glimpse of a reflection in the doctor’s office several months later that she learned the extent of her injury. When she confronted her mother about knowing the truth, she said that a great peace came over her. Instead of declaring a desire to die, she instead expressed gratitude that she was still alive. This was a powerful moment and a turning point for all of them.
In recent years, Lindrys has had three surgeries to reconstruct her right brow so that she could be fitted with a prosthetic eye. During this time she has been studying hotel management and tourism while raising her 4-year-old daughter. Her daughter’s persistence was a driving force in them seeking the MMI clinic when they did. Even at her young age, she was the target for other children’s ridicule at school, with comments about her mother being pretty from the neck down, but ugly from the neck up.
Lindrys arrived at the clinic in the final days that we were there, and the prosthetic eye inventory had dwindled. The ocularist who fit these eyes was concerned that no match would be found, but after several moments in prayer and synchronistic moments beyond consequence, a perfect match was in fact found. When I met Lindrys in her home, I met a vibrant beautiful young woman who has much to look forward to. She is still in need of more reconstructive surgery and is hopeful that there are other groups like MMI that might be able to help. With her new eye and more socially accepted looks, she talked eagerly about possibilities of holding a job and hoped for opportunities to one day marry. Ultimately she poured out gratitude to God, not for giving her “normal” looks, but for her injury in the first place, since through it, she has experienced deep grace and a transformed outlook on life.