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Humanitarian Spring Break (Part Two): Danville Teen and Her Family Find Medical Need is Greater Than Expected

Colette Ankenman and her family reflect on a recent humanitarian trip to Guatemala.

Athenian School eleventh grader Colette Ankenman and her Danville family spent Colette's spring break helping mothers and children at an orphanage in Guatemala.

Here is Ankenman's update about the trip to the Casa de Sion Orphanage and the medical clinics the family held there.

Feeding Program at the Orphanage

When the family arrived in Guatemala on March 15, they discovered the orphanage was closed because the government kept trying the extract more and more bribes to keep it open. This is an ongoing problem for most of the orphanages in Guatemala.

Nearly 255 children came three days a week for the feeding program, where a cook prepared meals of vegetable soup, meat or cheese, and juice or water; one of the few meals the children ate each week.

"If they (the kids) eat at all, it's usually a cup of coffee and a tortilla or piece of bread, so it makes their blood pressure go up and down," said Ankenman of meals children ate outside the orphanage. "The vitamins should help them feel better and help with their development."

A six-month supply of vitamins was left with the cook at the orphanage.

Medical Clinics

Running the medical clinics was a family affair. While Colette organized events and entertained children, her pediatrician mother, Jerrilyn, examined patients. Her father Gregg, who speaks Spanish, translated the patients' ailments while her brother Dan, age 15, played guitar for waiting patients.

What surprised Colette most was that children as young as eight-years-old came to the clinic by themselves, she said.

Over 100 children came alone, and many of the mothers and children walked two to eight miles to reach the clinic and waited for several hours to be seen.

Colette said three sisters, aged seven to 12 arrived at 2 p.m. and waited patiently until 9 p.m. to be seen, without eating lunch or dinner.

Jerrilyn Ankenman diagnosed a variety of ailments in over 600 patients during four days of medical clinics. The most common diseases in the children were:

  • Ear infections: 90 percent had ear infections or scarring of the eardrums due to past infections. This is most likely due to cooking on indoor fires or using them for heat without any ventilation, causing the ears' eustachian tubes to get inflamed.
  • Abscessed teeth: 70 percent had abscessed teeth. Several of them had teeth broken off at the gum line due to lack of dental care.
  • Orthostatic hypotension: 60 percent had orthostatic hypotension, causing their blood pressure to fall when they stood up. This is most likely due to a limited supply of clean drinking water.
  • Increased heart rates: 70 percent had increased heart rates, possibly due to a combination of dehydration and anemia.
  • Malnutrition: 60 percent showed signs of malnutrition including anemia, hypotension, decreased body fat, bleeding gums, skin rashes, hair loss, and swelling of the hands and feet. Ten percent reported eating no food in the previous two days, and 60 percent said they ate only one tortilla or one piece of bread in the previous day.
  • Cleft lip and palate: Several babies had this condition, requiring a surgery too expensive for parents to afford. Free options are sometimes available through non-profit groups, but babies must show they're growing before they can qualify, and that in itself is a problem due to malnutrition.

In addition to the children's ailments, all but one of the adult men had hypertension, and many of the women did too.

Jerrilyn Ankenman said the family had medicine and supplies to treat all of the ailments in the children and adults, except for hypertension.

Back in Danville

Word about Ankenman's humanitarian work and the nonprofit that supports it, Baragwanath Blessings, is spreading quickly across Danville.

Students at Vista Grande Elementary School, where Collette attended elementary school, are planning a program to raise money for the non-profit in May. They'll also be featuring Ankenman on Vista Grande TV, a weekly news program about school activities.

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