In March 2016, we were introduced to the wonderful work of Dr. Juan Cuellar Dodd (Dr. Cuellar Sr.) and his son Dr. Juan Cuellar Jr., two pediatric plastic surgeons from Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas. They invited us to participate in a week of free surgeries and multidisciplinary care for children with cleft lips and palates at the Hospital de Especialidades Pediatricas in Tuxtla, the capital of Chiapas. Patients and their families came from all over the state of Chiapas for evaluations, surgeries, orthodontic and speech consultations, and/or educational presentations on feeding, orthodontics and speech pathology.
Together we evaluated 18 children preoperatively and operated on 14 children. Dr. Cuellar also invited 3 speech therapists and an orthodontist from Mexico City to provide crucial consultations and educational presentations. These specialists donated their time and services, working 7 hours/day from Monday to Friday. During that week, 29 patients received orthodontic consultations, 45 patients benefited from speech therapy assessments and sessions, and 132 parents attended 3 educational presentations on nutritional, orthodontic and speech issues.
About Chiapas and Dr. Cuellar
About 50% of the population in Chiapas is indigenous and only speak dialects derived from the Maya, live in poverty and lack access to health services and opportunities. Chiapas has among the highest incidence of cleft lip and palate in Mexico, and probably among the highest incidence and prevalence of this congenital abnormality in the world.
Health services are concentrated primarily in the capital of Tuxtla and, secondarily, in the smaller town of San Cristobal. There are financial and logistical difficulties in getting children to the orthodontic, nutritional and speech follow-up sessions that are so crucial for full recovery.
Impact of Dr. Cuellar
Over 30 years ago, Dr. Cuellar Sr. established the first cleft lip and palate program in southeast Mexico and the Yucatán Peninsula. He has been leading this program and working with cleft patients for over 3 decades. In an effort to offer more comprehensive treatment, he recently founded “La Fuerza de Mi Sonrisa” (“The Power of My Smile”), a non profit organization committed to providing high-quality multidisciplinary care to children with cleft lip and palate from families with few financial resources.
Dr. Cuellar Sr. and his team are the only group providing comprehensive medical care to low income cleft children in the entire state, including those living in the many small villages in remote, mountainous locations.
Ongoing Plans in Chiapas
Our work with the Cuellars began a relationship of mutual trust and ongoing collaboration.
We are committed to providing them with resources that THEY identify as needing the most to expand and strengthen their multidisciplinary care. In 2016, we helped sponsor additional consultations by orthodontist Dr. Castillo. In March 2017, we agreed to fund the ongoing orthodontic care of about 45 patients for a full year. However, we hope to raise funds to provide even more support for the Cuellars’ patient load, about 90% of whom live in conditions of extreme poverty. These patients need not only orthodontic care and speech therapy, but also assistance paying for transportation from their remote villages.