|   Posted: May 15, 2020

A regular checkup at a Compassion center caught an illness threatening Cheyla's life — just before COVID-19 lockdowns began.

Eating and Playing Again

A regular checkup at a Compassion center caught an illness threatening Cheyla's life — just before COVID-19 lockdowns began.

Mom and daughter outside home in Nicaragua
Cheyla and her mom, Yanarey, outside their home in Nicaragua.
While the world was consumed with news of COVID-19, a mother in Nicaragua received news of a different illness — one threatening the life of her daughter.

Yanarey and her daughters Cheyla, 5, and Milagro, 10, live in a rural Nicaraguan village. Yanarey is unemployed, struggling to find work since a sociopolitical crisis devastated her country’s economy in 2018. She was perplexed as, for many months, she watched Cheyla change. The little girl lost her appetite along with her energy.

“At first it was barely noticeable," Yanarey says. But soon she noticed her daughter was losing a lot of weight.

There is no health clinic in their village, so families have to travel about 19 miles to the nearest hospital when they’re sick. For those who can’t afford vehicles or other transportation costs, that 19 miles might as well be 100. Yanarey couldn’t afford to get to the hospital or pay for medicine, so she hoped Cheyla’s symptoms weren’t serious.

A Timely Diagnosis

Providentially, Cheyla was due for a regular health screening at her child development center, newly opened in 2019 when a nearby church began partnering with Compassion. At her checkup in early March 2020, a doctor discovered that she was underweight and diagnosed her with iron deficiency anemia.

“The moment we found out … we quickly started working,” says Ana Guido, director of the church-based child development center. “With the COVID-19 situation, it was difficult for the family to go to the hospital.”

Iron deficiency anemia occurs when the body doesn’t have enough iron to create hemoglobin, a blood protein that carries oxygen to the tissues and carbon dioxide away to the lungs for removal. It can be caused by a lack of iron in the diet, the inability to absorb iron, blood loss or pregnancy. Left untreated, it can cause serious health problems and damage organs, including the heart. But Cheyla had the help she needed to avoid that dire outcome. The doctor at her center immediately put her on a special diet, vitamins, iron supplements and deworming medicine.

The treatment regimen began just in time, before the coronavirus pandemic forced Cheyla’s child development center to suspend activities — including serving meals to kids. If she hadn’t been diagnosed before the coming chaos of quarantine orders, her condition likely would have grown much worse while she stayed home with scarce food.

Mom and daughter at home in Nicaragua
Yanarey and 5-year-old Cheyla inside their home in Nicaragua. "I would like to always have food," says Cheyla, sharing what she prays about, "and a house where my sister and my mom and I could be comfortable."

Recovering With Support

Thanks to her sponsor, the local church and Compassion’s program, Cheyla had the medicines and food she needed when stay-at-home orders began. The center staff has made extra effort to ensure that she and her family feel loved, known and protected by calling regularly and delivering food packs. Church workers also encouraged Yanarey to tell them right away about any future concerns so her daughter won’t have to wait to get help.

“We try to keep in touch with them and share words of encouragement. The situation is very hard right now … so we call them, letting them know that they’re in our prayers and we will always support them,” Ana says.

It’s been over two months since Cheyla began her treatment for iron deficiency anemia. Her mother has noticed big improvements in her appearance and behavior. Yanarey says Cheyla is no longer weak. Before, she got sick often and couldn’t play with other children. Now, she has energy and is excited to eat — and to go back to her church-based center when it’s safe.

Until then, the family knows that the church will be there for them — from a safe distance — no matter what’s going on in the world.