‘She’s Our Courage And Strength’: Mother Reflects On Raising Child With Down Syndrome

In Chiapas, PIH Provides Care, Support For Children With Disabilities

Posted on Jul 29, 2021

Jazmín Velázquez and her daughter, Derly, in their home in rural Chiapas.
Jazmín Velázquez and her daughter, Derly, in their home in rural Chiapas. Photo by Paola Rodriguez / Partners In Health.

Weeks after the birth of her daughter, Jazmín Velázquez spent her days crying. The young mother was immersed in stress, worry, and sadness, despite the words of encouragement that a nurse had offered.

"Don't cry,” the nurse at Villaflores Pediatric Hospital had told her. “Having a daughter like this is a gift... Special children are born into special families." 

But believing the nurse's words was hard. How could a newborn girl face so many problems and so much suffering? It wasn't fair to her.

Velázquez’s daughter, Derly, is one of 8 million people in Mexico who live with a disability. Derly was born with Down syndrome, along with other complications that compromised her health. Doctors didn’t give her long to live.

All this came as a surprise to Velázquez. When the 19-year-old was pregnant with Derly, she had followed the rules of prenatal care to the letter: she went to all of her medical appointments at the clinic in Reforma, closely monitored her diet, and received care from her husband and family members. No one could have predicted the complications that would arise.

Velázquez gave birth at the Hospital Básico Comunitario Ángel Albino Corzo in Jaltenango, and it was there she learned that her daughter, in addition to having Down syndrome, had been born with hip dysplasia, a heart murmur, and nostril agenesis—the latter meaning that her nostrils did not form properly during pregnancy, so they were completely closed, and that a tracheotomy would be necessary for her to breathe. After she was born, Derly was hospitalized for three months at the pediatric hospital in Villaflores.

Those days were long and difficult.

"I would cry because I would see my baby, so tiny, connected to many machines, struggling to breathe," Velázquez recalls.

In order to support the family, Velázquez’s husband went to work in the United States. Despite the added financial support, the burden of care became heavier for Velázquez, who had to raise her daughter alone.

For the next five years, Velázquez and Derly's lives revolved around monthly medical appointments with pediatricians, otolaryngologists, and gastroenterologists—care made possible by Compañeros En Salud.

"We went to many different hospitals," says Velázquez. "But we wouldn't have been able to do it without the support of Compañeros En Salud."

Since 2011, Compañeros En Salud, as Partners In Health is known in Mexico, has cared for more than 7,000 children with different illnesses, while striving to break down barriers to health access and helping them recover and sustain their health. Often, that has been achieved not just through medical care, but through resources such as lodging, transportation to clinics, and food vouchers, known as “social support,” which are essential for patients to access health care.

These resources are delivered through Compañeros En Salud’s Right To Health program—a program that has served hundreds of patients, including Derly, providing them with the resources to access health services and accompanying them as they navigate a complex health system.

That support has made a world of difference.

Today, Derly is 8 years old and healthy—nowadays, she only comes to the clinic when she has colds or an upset stomach.

When Velázquez’s husband returned to Chiapas about two years ago, he was surprised to find their daughter much stronger and healthier than he remembered—a testament to Velázquez’s caregiving and the support provided by Compañeros En Salud.

"She is our example of courage and strength, after all that has happened," Velázquez says. "Now that my husband is back, we are a whole family again.

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