Creating Smiles, Improving Lives


Austin, Texas

This is my first humanitarian mission—and my first time writing a blog. The fine people at Austin Smiles have entrusted me with their blog space to chronicle the mission experience from a novice’s point of view. At first I struggled with the idea of writing a blog. What could I possibly have to say that anyone would want to read? The website is packed with important details about the organization and its missions—it’s the authoritative place to go for information about Austin Smiles. I suppose this blog provides an opportunity for new eyes to give a fresh “unofficial” perspective. That’s my angle anyway. It could be interesting. In any case, it’s an honor and privilege to be joining such a talented and committed group of volunteers. I am excited to share my experience with you.

Perhaps I should introduce myself first. For about 25 years I have worked in publishing in a variety of roles—editor, managing editor, editorial director, and writer. I have mostly worked on children’s books, but I have also written adult novelty (it’s not what it sounds like), blurbs for boxes, catalogs, book covers, and websites. I have named toys, colors, and luggage lines. My words are supposed to sell. There is a, dare I say, cheesiness to some of the things I write. It’s fluff and stuff that doesn’t really matter. Well, at least it doesn’t always feel like it matters, especially when your husband is a cranio-facial surgeon. Here’s what a typical end-of-day conversation might look like in my house:


What did you do today, hun?


Well, I worked on this book that has an icky, sticky, stretchy tongue and googly eyes on the cover. I wrote rhyming text for it: On a pretty blue lake, on a big brown log, sat a very quiet, little green frog… . How was your day?


I had a pretty tough case. A kid with a history of craniosynostosis who had been operated on in another institution in the past presented to us with some bony defects, cephalocranial disproportion and increased intracranial pressure. We’re planning a staged correction for him, including posterior cranial vault distraction osteogenesis, followed by anterior cranial vault reconstruction with bone grafting. Anyway, that’s great about your book, hun. Tell me more.


Huh? Uh, yeah, about that … .

My husband, craniofacial surgeon Raymond Harshbarger III, has a passion for humanitarian missions. For more than a decade I have sent him off with a kiss to Peru, Paraguay, Vietnam, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and El Salvador.  I have gone with him twice before, but I was mostly occupied with keeping my young son entertained and safe. That, combined with restrictive protocols, meant my contribution was limited. (Translate: I sipped cocktails poolside. I wanted to help! Really, I did! But Jackson was just a baby, and I have no medical experience, and… .) Finally I have the opportunity to truly participate. If you’re thinking, Uh, so writing this blog is your way of “contributing?” Let me say, I already know that I will get far more from this mission than anything I have to offer. I just want to help—in whatever form that takes. Maybe people, or even just one person, might want to help in some way, too, after reading my blog. Believe me, if I can do it, anyone can. There are many interesting volunteers working on this mission, and I imagine the stories of the patients and their families are even more compelling. So much of the news we read tears us apart, the human bond being broken by violence, deceit, and fear. I hope this blog will help show what great things people can do when they work together. So stay tuned.

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

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