Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Generous Spokane Diocese parishioners fund life-saving surgery for Guatemala woman

by Emily Albi and Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the Jan. 18, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Irma Cojon holds her one-year-old daughter, Clara. Irma had been paralyzed with tuberculosis of the spine and underwent a delicate operation in July 2004. She has continued to improve to the point where she now cares for four children at home and participates actively in community life. Irma is extremely grateful to people of Spokane for help received. (IR photo from the Guatemala Commission)

Less than three years ago, Irma Cojon was on the brink of death. She could no longer care for her children or cook for her family over the open fire that warmed their tiny house in Northern Guatemala.

The mysterious pain and paralysis that had attacked Irma’s legs had spread to her upper body. Unable to move even her arms, she felt like she was suffocating. Her husband, Juan, sought out Father David Baronti, their parish priest, to give Irma the last sacraments.

When the Spokane-based missionary saw Irma, she told him that she was ready for God to take her. But, she questioned, “What about my children? They need me.”

Irma had been an active and energetic catechist in Father Baronti’s parish, a role model for other young women in the area. He was not about to let her die without exploring every opportunity to save her life.

Father Baronti insisted on taking Irma to a hospital for examination. That led to another hospital and, finally, a diagnosis of tuberculosis of the spine. Then followed some long-distance phone calls, nearly $3,000 in contributions from parishioners of the Diocese of Spokane, and an operation in Guatemala City on July 5, 2004.

The spinal surgery for Irma was a procedure that would not likely have been attempted in the U.S. Nevertheless, Irma survived. Within a few months she had improved to the point where she could walk – slowly. Yes, some difficulties remained. And she had to be on some medications. But she was available for her children, Astrid, Miguel, and Alejandra.

Over the next year, Irma’s condition improved. She returned to her more active role in her home and her community.

In December 2005 Irma and Juan were blessed with their fourth child, whom they named Clara. During 2006, Irma joined with two other young women of the village to train for producing goods that might be sold to tourists to enhance the family income.

Like many Guatemalans, Irma’s faith helped carry her through an extremely difficult crisis. She and her husband, Juan, were willing to accept whatever God had in store for them. But God’s plan included an intervention on the part of Father Baronti and some donors from Spokane.

The help Irma received has given her a new outlook on life and a new daughter to share the joy of life. Her appreciation to all concerned is evident in the contagious happiness she spreads to everyone she meets. Perhaps it is her way of saying “Thank you, God, for making the people of Spokane a part of my life. Now, I’ll do my part to spread that joy of life to others here in my village in Guatemala.”

(Emily Albi contributed to this article; Jerry Monks is a member of the Spokane Diocese’s Guatemala Commission.)

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