Peace Corps Volunteer, Local Organizations Come Together to Bring El Salvador Youth to U.S. for Surgery

June 2, 2004

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 2, 2004 – After 8-year-old David Ananias Vásquez Fuentes had a grenade explode in his hand in February, local doctors had little hope that he would ever be able to see again or use his arm. That was before Fuentes met Peace Corps volunteer Jordan Gantz.

While traveling one day in his host community of Conchagua, El Salvador, Gantz saw a sign announcing that a local telethon had been held for Fuentes. After inquiring with some local citizens, Gantz learned the community had raised nearly $7,000 U.S.; however, the limited medical technology in El Salvador would not allow local doctors to perform the procedure to help restore Fuentes’ sight.

Gantz set out to see how he could help. On a tip from his country director, Gantz came into contact with returned Peace Corps volunteer Dwight Steen, a member of the Northern Virginia Lions Club. With the help of the local Lions Club and Lions Club International, Gantz was able to find two Fairfax, Va., doctor who would donate the procedure costs, working through the Inova Health System. The Fairfax Lions Club was also able to locate a new cornea for Fuentes through their Eye Bank program.

"I would say this is my greatest accomplishment thus far as a volunteer, seeing this all come together," said Gantz. "Hopefully, this will provide David with life opportunities that right now he doesn’t have."

After securing airline tickets through a donation from TACA airlines, and visas, Fuentes, Gantz and Fuentes’ mother Santos set out for the Washington, D.C. metro area and arrived on May 17. On May 20, the two local Virginia doctors, Dr. Manfred von Fricken and Dr. Binoy Jani, replaced Fuentes’ cornea and cleaned the debris from around his retina, hoping this will allow Fuentes to possibly see again. While it will be months before doctors will know whether the surgery worked, last weekend, Fuentes was already getting back to being a kid – enjoying some time with his stuffed animals and new toy matchbox cars.

"After evaluating David, we felt we really may be able to help him," said Jani, who donates his time and surgical skills through the Fairfax Lions Club program to patients who can greatly benefit but cannot afford the procedures. "We are optimistic about his potential for recovery, depending on how his post operative course goes in El Salvador."

Four days after the surgery, Fuentes was able to see the doctor’s fingers from a foot away for the first time since the accident. Later that day, Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez visited Fuentes at a local Ronald McDonald House and presented him with a teddy bear.

"This is the kind of story that really shows the commitment volunteers have for the people in their communities," said Director Vasquez. "Hopefully, this will mark the beginning of a successful recovery for this young boy."

Gantz chronicled Fuentes’ visit to the U.S. in a diary. To read the diary or to learn how to contribute, please visit: http://www.acoconchagua.com/solidaridad/english/home.htm.

Since 1961, more than 171,000 volunteers have served in the Peace Corps, working in such diverse fields as education, health, HIV/AIDS education and prevention, information technology, business development, the environment, and agriculture. Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a two-year commitment.

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