Creating Smiles, Improving Lives

El Salvador 2017, Day 1

Travel & Triage

San Salvador– After a very long day of travel on Saturday, February 18, 2017, the Austin Smiles team finally made it from Austin to San Salvador, picking up fellow team members along the way in Houston.  Our team of 42 medical and nonmedical volunteers is the 45th to make an Austin Smiles mission trip to El Salvador in the organization’s 30-year history!

We started our first day in country Sunday February 19, 2017 boarding the bus from our hotel, the Crowne Plaza San Salvador, at 7:30 am.  A short ride and a quick team photo later, we were on our way in to the Hospital Militar to hear Leilani Briseño, Austin Smiles Medical Missions Director, brief the team on the day.  On our way inside, we pass the hundreds of children and parents patiently waiting to see if they will be selected as a candidate for surgery during our week here.  After our briefing, team members quickly go into action moving crates of medical supplies and equipment into operating rooms while our doctors slip into their white coats to immediately begin triaging the waiting patients.

For anyone not familiar with the term, “triage” simply means to intake and evaluate potential patients for surgery.  The Hospital Militar in San Salvador is much more rudimentary than most hospitals in the United States – there are very few rooms with air conditioning as the hospital actually has an open roof adjacent to covered rooms and hallways (with actual birds flying around inside!).  Candidates for surgery are first either brought in for evaluation by plastic surgeons, Dr. Tom Narsete, Dr. Matt Greives, Dr. Michael Rossi, and Dr. Nicholas Howland; or, if already selected as candidates for more complex potential jaw surgery, for evaluation by Dr. Raymond Harshbarger and Dr. Sarah Frommer.

After seeing these doctors, candidates are escorted by Austin Smiles team members and San Salvador Rotary Club volunteers to the next triage step, a visit with our anesthesiologists, Dr. Quint Barnes, Dr. Stan Young, and Dr. Eric White.  If the recommended surgery for the candidate is deemed safe and secure by anesthesiology, potential patients then proceed for evalutions by ENT Dr. Chad Whited and then to our speech language pathologists, Julie Loney and Liana Martinez.

Triage day is a day of bustling activity, but also a lot of waiting by potential patients and their families.  Austin Smiles volunteers try to make the long day more bearable by entertaining the younger candidates for surgery with bubbles, coloring books, and simply offering a smile or hug.

The day ends with the delivery of much-hoped-for or sometimes heartbreaking news as Austin Smiles volunteers tell each family that has been waiting all day if their child was selected as a candidate for surgery.  We only have three days to perform surgeries while we are here this time around, so that limits the amount of patients we can treat.  If a candidate is ill or presents as high-risk for a variety of reasons, we unfortunately cannot safely treat them.  Also, many parents bring children who are simply too young/too small for safe surgery to be performed.

But, the good news is, after screening 89 candidates, 42 babies, children, and even young adults are selected for surgery, with several placed on a back-up list just in case we have the opportunity to treat them as well.  Team Austin Smiles is looking forward to a busy week of helping create new smiles for these amazing young people.

Credits//Author Kristen Brown. Photography: Sarah Carney


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