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Joseline’s powerful story as told by her mom, Coronada Concepcion…
“I will never forget, this was on December, Sunday 13. We had just come out of the church. The whole congregation had gathered for dinner to celebrate. Around 7 pm, a taxi went into the condominium… the last thing I remember was hearing gunshots going off. I had forgotten the girls were playing nearby. When I finally looked over, Joseline was covered in blood, her hand covering her throat.
We went outside the condominium to see if someone could help us, but there was no one around. Then decided to walk with her to the nearest clinic, we did not know what else to do. We passed a police station, but they could not help us either. More than thirty minutes had passed, and Joseline kept choking. Thankfully one of my husband’s cousins passed by and was able to take us to the nearest clinic. The doctor would not give us too much hope. She told us that traumas like the one Joseline had suffered needed to be treated immediately, and she thought too much time had passed.
But God had other plans.
The ambulance arrived to take Joseline to hospital. To everyone’s surprise, she was very calm the whole ride. She remained at ease on the stretcher until we arrived. It was in the Hospital Benjamin Bloom, where we met Dr. Bonilla. He was going to be her surgeon.
However, once he was able to examine Joseline and see the extents of her wounds, he repeated what the doctor at the clinic said: she has a very slim chance of survival, and even if she survives, she might not be able to talk or move.
The next time I saw Joseline, she was being wheeled into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). She did not look like my same little girl. There were, what it seems like, millions of tubes coming out of her slim body. For me, I was just happy she was alive, awake, and moving. She spent three days in the ICU, where she suffered from terrible Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She would continuously cry; she feared the ‘bad buys’ would come and find her. She spent forty days in the hospital. Once she was discharged, this fear slowly began to disappear.
Joseline and her mom, Coronada Concepcion.
However, we started to worry about other things. She began to lose weight very quickly. By January, she had lost around twenty pounds. She could no longer talk or eat anything by mouth. She now had a feeding tube connected directly to her stomach. Our lives had changed forever. I could no longer work, Joseline needed my help 24/7.
Dinners had become a sad time in our house. Joseline would cry every time she would see us eat; for all she knew, she might never taste food again. And we all felt guilty to eat near her; I did not know what to do. She could no longer speak, so she would have to carry around a pen and paper so she could interact with the rest of the family.
This was our life now; there were no other treatments for her in the country.
However, Dr. Bonilla knew of an international nonprofit (Global Smile Foundation) that was doing cleft lip and palate surgery at the ‘Bloom,’ and he decided to see if they could help Joseline. After Dr. Bonilla explained Joseline’s case, 3 of the volunteers went up to her room to see her. Coincidentally they all knew Dr. Hartnick and the work he did through Operation Airways. The next thing I knew was that we were on our way to Boston. Joseline was going to get the treatment she needed.
Once we were in Boston, we were not treated as patients; I felt like I was home, surrounded by family members.
Joselin, before and after her surgery.
Joselin, with Dr. Harnick (right) and Dr. Sarah Bouhabel (left).
On the day of her first surgery, I remember I was terrified. The doctors had explained to me that after this surgery, we would know if Joseline would ever be able to talk and eat. That day, time seemed to pass slower than usual.
When Dr. Hartnick came out of the operating room to speak to me, my heart was going so fast; I thought it was going to go out of my chest. He explained to me that my little girl was going to be able to speak… it was only a matter of hours before I could hear her voice. That same week she was also eating by mouth for the first time in 8 months. I will never forget that day; it was the day our lives were given back to us.
Today, a year after that first surgery from Operation Airways, Joseline is walking around with no trach. Now there is only a little scar that reminds us of the miracle of her life.
What most people don’t know is that the hospital the ambulance was supposed to take us to was not the Hospital Benjamin Bloom. Joseline instructions were to admit her into Hospital Rosales. However, her uncle, who is in charge of transportation at the ‘Bloom,’ told us to go directly there… without that call, we would have never met Operation Airways… and I don’t think my little girl would have survived!”
Joseline’s spirit shines through.
Thanks to Operation Airway, Joseline can now eat, drink, and speak normally.