February 23, 2017
Maritza – By Kristen Brown; photos by Sarah Carney
Today’s post highlights perhaps the most extraordinary story of our trip – our organization’s 45th – to El Salvador.
Maritza, age 30, and her mother Ana Daisy, came to Hospital Militar on Sunday with all the other candidates and patients to be seen and evaluated for surgery this week. However, this is not the first time Maritza has come to see doctors from Austin Smiles, and hopefully, it will not be the last.
On the evening of April 17, 2014, Maritza came home from her job as a household employee in San Salvador. She decided to lay down on the bed she shared with her boyfriend, the father of her youngest child, and rest. Suddenly, and without explanation, her boyfriend – a recently suspended Salvadoran police officer – came into the bedroom, pulled his gun from underneath their bed, and shot her in the face.
When speaking with Maritza and her mother to find out more about her story, they both claimed that the shooting was “an accident,” although it seemed that there was more to the story that neither Maritza nor her mother were willing to share. Maritza claims that the boyfriend was not drunk, they had not been fighting, and he had no mental problems. However, she never saw him again after the shooting. He fled El Salvador and to this day, they do not know where he is.
Although hospitalized for 18 days after the shooting, Maritza has never had much-needed surgery due to the lack of medical resources and specialists here. Maritza has no lower jaw – her mouth perpetually gapes open and she constantly has to dab away saliva. She wears a mask because of her appearance, and it is almost impossible to understand what she says. Her mother did most of the speaking for her. She has not been able to eat or drink since the shooting and has a feeding tube in her stomach.
Maritza has two children, Eduardo Javier, age 14 and Alexia Valentina, age five. When asked what the most difficult part of her life has been post-shooting, she does not talk about any of the hardships she personally faces each day with this injury. Instead, she talks about how painful it has been for her children to see what she has had to go through.
Maritza receives no Salvadoran government assistance although she applied over a year ago. She works three days a week in San Salvador as an assistant at a microfinancing cooperative. Each Thursday, she makes a seven-hour bus trip to the Morazán region of El Salvador to reunite with her children who live with her sister and go to school there because it provides them with a better education and life. Each Sunday she travels the seven hours by bus back to San Salvador for her job where she lives with her mother.
Dr. Raymond Harshbarger, an Austin Smiles Board Member, and Reconstructive Plastic Surgeon with the Craniofacial Team at Dell Children’s Medical Center, has seen Maritza several times over the past two years on Austin Smiles trips to San Salvador. He wants to bring Maritza to the United States so that he can perform life-changing jaw surgery on her there – it is too dangerous to perform such a complex surgery with follow-up care here in San Salvador.
When we asked Maritza’s mother what this surgery would mean for Maritza, she replied, “Nacería de nuevo” … it would be as if she were reborn.
Listening to Ana Daisy say this, translator Ian Brown, Maritza, our trip photographer Sarah Carney, and I had to pause as we were all openly crying thinking about all that Maritza has endured and how life-changing this surgery would be for her.
Dr. Harshbarger has been working with local hospitals and medical personnel in Austin, Texas, beginning the conversation of what it would take to bring Maritza to the States for surgery. Austin Smiles is committed to doing whatever we can to make this happen, and we will be launching a fundraising campaign to raise the first $20,000 of the at least $100,000 it will take to bring Maritza to Austin. If you would like to contribute directly to Maritza’s cause, you can do so by making a donation here and noting that it is in honor of Maritza https://austinsmiles.org/mission/san-salvador-el-salvador-2017-2/