Creating Smiles, Improving Lives


One of the frustrating things about doing surgeries outside of the US is you don’t get to see long-term results. This can happen at home, too, but it’s the likely scenario when you’re on a one-week trip in another country. It’s kind of like making a movie but never getting to see the final cut. (I’m not sure why I feel the need to make this analogy, but just go with it.) One of the advantages of going back to the same place year after year is continuity—established logistics, familiar hospital, same in-country volunteer organization, known systems, etc. But even then, you rarely get to see a patient again—for a variety of reasons, like they may not get the news you’re in town, or the distance is too great to travel, or they can’t get time off work, etc. Yesterday, however, something special happened. There, sitting on two of the many molded plastic seats lining the narrow hallway, was a smiling teenage girl and her crying mother.

On June 15, 1994, Dr. James Cullington went on his first mission trip to El Salvador. A little girl named Liliana Elizabeth Morales had a large, disfiguring hemangioma (a benign tumor made of blood vessels) on her lip and chin. They went to see several doctors and not one of them would operate on it, thinking the risk of a bleeding complication was too great. But Dr. Cullington was young and determined, so he took the case on and successfully removed most of the tumor. The family returned three years later, in 1997, to have the remaining piece of tumor removed and the lip reconstructed. Liliana’s mother saved everything from her daughter’s surgical experience. Yesterday, she was holding the stuffed animal that Austin Smiles gave her when she was just a baby, as well as a newspaper article about Dr. Cullington and Liliana’s story. They even had the “golden ticket, ” that little number that Kendyl hands out when a patient is selected for surgery.


Above: Liliana and mother holding cherished memorabilia.

The mother was crying because she felt God had answered her prayers and brought this gifted surgeon to help them once again. Recently, Liliana was having some pain and had one of her canine teeth removed. They found that there was some hemangioma under the tooth that appeared to be growing back. Dr. Cullington has ordered an angiogram and a CT scan to determine whether or not the tumor is invading the bone. If not, then Liliana will come back next year and Cullington will remove it. If, however, there is tumor in the bone, then she will be flown to the US so that it can be removed at a facility more prepared to handle that type of surgery.

The showing of such immense gratitude by Liliana and her mother brought many of us to tears, but it was the huge smile on Dr. Cullington’s face that gave this story its happy ending.


Above: Liliana and Dr. Cullington

1 in 700 children are born with a cleft lip or palate

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