It was the moment of truth.
Jenri Rivera, 7, stared deep into the laptop screen. He waved to his parents on the other end of a Skype video call in rural Guatemala. It was the first time he’d seen them in the months since he came to America.
The new cochlear implant in his ear was switched on and Jenri went from seeing his parents to actually hearing his mother and father speak for the first time in his life.
The woman who sat beside Jenri, registered nurse Erin Van Oordt, saw the expression on his face as he first heard his mother’s voice. Erin immediately burst into tears. They had come so far and fought so hard for this moment.
Erin met Jenri three years earlier while on a mission in Guatemala. In a region blighted by poverty, Jenri’s family was the poorest in the village. To make matters worse, little Jenri was deaf and had never even had a proper medical check-up.
Erin explains, “Without language, an education or local infrastructure for people with disabilities, his future options were pretty much limited to begging on the street. He had such a big smile and bright eyes and I could see that he had so much potential.”
She knew she must do something and – against all odds – Erin began the long, difficult, and expensive process to bring Jenri to the US for surgery and language therapy. But as Erin shared Jenri’s story with others, one-by-one they signed on to support his journey.
Rebecca Ghent, Executive Director of Ray of Hope Medical Missions, worked with other volunteers to put together the logistics from getting Jenri a special medical visa to visit the country to organizing temporary legal guardian status for Erin.
Dr. Michael Disher at Indiana Ear in Ft. Wayne and his medical coordinator, Sarah Silva, played a huge role in bringing together the medical side of the process. They have done significant pro bono work throughout the US over the last 15 years and were able to access a large network of important contacts. Advanced Bionics donated the $40,000 device and Focus Audiology activated it.
Dr. Disher says, “The surgery went well but the follow-up will be really important. Jenri has to learn a lot of language skills, but I can see that he’s a bright boy and has the aptitude to take to it. He’s been impressively calm, cool, and collected throughout it all.”
Erin recounts, “When he first heard his parents through Skype, I put my hands over my face and just started bawling. Jenri’s been such a trooper.” She laughs, “There was a news crew there, and I don’t usually like to cry in public let alone on national TV.”
“Hearing his parents made Jenri very emotional too,” she says. “This has been very inspirational for all involved. Jenri’s father has been down on his luck and this has really shown him the value of hope too.”
Rebecca from Ray of Hope concludes, “I’m fairly stoic and seeing Erin and Jenri’s reaction to him hearing his family even brought tears to my eyes. We’re all volunteers. We work a lot of long hours and Jenri made me remember ‘this, right here, is why we do it.’”