Photography by : Ellise Nicole Photography
Written by : Susan Armstrong

Thirty plus Austin Smiles volunteers headed to Hospital Militar Central this morning at 7:30 AM for triage day – our first day at the hospital. Approximately 50 families from all over El Salvador were already patiently waiting for us. One family told us they woke up at 2 AM to arrive to San Salvador in time. Children as young as three months old and young adults as old as 26 years were seeking Austin Smiles’ help.

The first hour was a little chaotic as each station got set up in its respective part of the hospital – Medical and Surgical Evaluation rooms were upstairs, Speech Therapy and Social Services downstairs. Speech and Social Services are new this year as Austin Smiles is beginning to offer its patients a fuller spectrum of services in all the areas needed.

It wasn’t long before a each station had a rhythm. A nurse would first evaluate a patient by checking their vitals and gathering their medical history. Next, a surgeon would look at their mouth and cleft lip or palate to assess if they were a good candidate for surgery. If the surgeons cleared them for surgery, two anesthesiologists would confirm they were fit for anesthesia by listening to their heart and respiratory system. Finally, speech therapists conducted speech evaluations for the level of follow-up of speech assistance the patient may need. This was the first year Isri Therapists, a local El Salvador speech therapist company, assisted Austin Smiles so they could connect with patients after Austin Smiles left El Salvador. Once a patient moved through all the stations, the surgeons scheduled them for surgery and they were sent home until their operation.

In between stations, volunteers played with the kids through coloring books, puppets, a big-screen movie, and snacks. Volunteers took lots of photos with kids and families. Though some children shed initial tears of fear or uncertainty, they quickly changed to smiles.

By the end of the day, twenty-three patients were told they will be returning to the hospital for surgery later in the week. Austin Smiles volunteers are eagerly anticipating the opportunity to change these lives!