Creating Smiles, Improving Lives

Behind the Photo – “Love”

San Salvador Medical Mission Trip – June 2016

(Story and Photography by Ellie Falcao) Sorry it has been so long since the last “Behind the Photo” blog post! Time got away from me this summer, but my memories of San Salvador were never far from my mind.


I decided to title this week’s Behind the Photo blog post “LOVE.” There has been a lot of sadness in the news lately, so I felt like highlighting some of the stories of love from our San Salvador trip might be just what the doctor ordered!


Leading up to the trip I decided I had two main goals for my photos. One, I wanted to be sure to capture the volunteers in action. Without the incredible volunteers who use their vacation time and personal resources to go, or the donors who give so generously to supplement what the volunteers pay out-of-pocket, trips like these would not be possible. I wanted to be sure to memorialize their commitment in my photos.


Secondly, I knew I wanted to try to document the emotional side of the week. My husband likes to joke that I am a natural anthropologist; I love to understand people on a deeper level. I hoped that through my photos I could convey the way it felt to be there. Sometimes, though, I think the pictures deserve a backstory, so here it goes!


They say when you become a parent your heart starts to walk outside of your body. Since becoming a mom to twins seven years ago, I have found this quote to be true more times than I can count. The love a parent has for their child is singular, and the instinct to protect is fierce. One of the hardest parts about parenthood is trusting someone else with the health and well-being of your child. Throughout our week in San Salvador, I witnessed the inevitable moment the doctor would come out and take the child from the parent’s arms to be brought back to surgery. Some parents handled it with stoicism, others with tears. Either way, the difficult wait would then begin.


Above is a picture of 16 year old Javier coming out of surgery while his mom looks on. Austin Smiles first operated on Javi when he was six months old. Five or more surgeries later it never gets any easier for his family- but this is the moment when the parents can finally let out the breath they had been holding since the moment their child went back to the operating room. Even though it is only a moment as the child is wheeled from surgery to the recovery room, you could see the relief on the parent’s face thanks to that one brief moment.


Once the child had a chance to wake up a bit in recovery, the nurses would bring mom in from the waiting area. It was such a privilege to be present during this special moment- the first time mom got to see her heart with an all new face, the moment they got to feel for themselves that their child was fine and all was well.


Unfortunately, there was only enough room to bring one parent in so dad usually got left out in the hallway. His moment of peace had to wait a bit longer. In the photo below, dad looks on as mom holds sweet Santiago. His anxiety was palpable, and although other family members tried to provide him comfort as he waited, he needed to see his son for himself before he could shed the worry.


After spending some time in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) the patients were transferred upstairs to the post-op recovery area. These rooms were sparse, to say the least. No fancy monitoring machines or TV’s in each room like you see in hospital rooms here in the United States. The funny thing was, I didn’t really even realize those things were missing. I was too busy being in awe of the love you could feel in these small rooms. Below, a flurry of activity surrounds mom as the incredible post-op nurses spring into action to care for their newly arrived patient. Mom barely notices, though- she only has eyes for her child.


Around the corner from the pediatric post-op area was the men’s ward where some of our older patients went to recover. I took the photo below of four such patients- ranging from age 15 to 22 – in the early morning hours of our last surgery day. Four patients, and four moms who most likely had a very rough night’s sleep on the uncomfortable chairs they were lucky enough to procure. But they wouldn’t have been anywhere else.


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