Creating Smiles, Improving Lives

Guatemala City Mission – Day 3

Today you get to meet the team! I am excited to introduce you to some of the people that I have been spending my days with. But before I begin, I would like to brag a little. You could not find a better group to work with. They are friendly, helpful, hardworking, and so thoughtful. Think about this: You show up at the Austin airport at 4AM and maybe you know a few people or maybe you don’t but over the next few days you will be making the trek through 3 airports with stacks of huge bags and cases full of equipment, you will unpack said bags at the MPSC where the majority of volunteers have never been before, you will help shuttle 120 kids plus their families through triage, and you will work 12+ hour days to accomplish 50 surgeries. Having a solid group of volunteers makes all of the above run so much more smoothly. Without further delay…

Ann Perry (RN – Recovery)
Ann was the first person I met when I walked into the airport Saturday morning. I quickly learned that she became an RN later in life, as did both of her sisters. This is her first trip since she and her husband returned from teaching English in China for a year. After going on a few missions, Ann was able to recruit her two sisters, Elaine and Jeanne, to join the cause. All 3 women are here with us this week! Both Ann and Jeanne are upstairs in the PACU while Elaine is mainly down in Triage.

Elaine Cody (RN – Triage, Post-Op)
Elaine is one half of the wonderful, bilingual Triage RN duo on this trip (you’ll meet the other half later on in this post). This is the second trip that Ann, Elaine, and Jeanne have been on together. Elaine lives Mesa, AZ so she came in on a different flight and met up with us in Guatemala. The part she enjoys most is seeing the mother’s response after the last operation. Many children often need multiple surgeries so the families can spend a few years hoping for the best. But when it is finally over, the mothers say things like “Now he can have a girlfriend” and it is that ordinary desire for their child which makes Elaine continue to do these trips. They change the life of the family, not just the child.

Bonus fun fact that I just found out while hanging out in the Triage room: all 3 sisters are big time quilters and organists! You can spot Jeanne upstairs knitting a blanket for her newest grandchild while waiting for the next patient to come to the PACU area.

Deborah Kirk (Translator) and Tom Kirk (Logistics)
Deborah is one of the Austin Smiles rock star regulars. She started going on trips 10 yrs ago, has served as a board member for 8 years, and has chaired the fund-raising event. Vera Cruz, Nicaragua, and Pueblo are just a few of the missions Deborah has been on. Her husband Tom started coming 8 years ago and is another one of those rock star regulars who never sits still and is always doing something helpful like cleaning the surgeons’ instruments or playing with the kids.

Anthony (Volunteer and occasional Translator)
Anthony is our localebrity (local + celebrity). He has made himself indispensable running errands to pick up snacks and medicine, translating for the non-Spanish speaking volunteers, calming crying babies, and procuring birthday cakes. Anthony has only been doing this for a year and a half (this is his 3rd trip) but his link with Austin Smiles goes way back. His father Joe went on trips for 20 years. Anthony heard stories year after year so he knew how impactful the missions were but only recently did he feel ready to experience it first hand. What’s his favorite part? Seeing the before and after. The complete change is amazing.

Dr. Joe Leary (ENT) and Kelly Leary (Volunteer)
There is no pun left behind between Dr. Leary and his daughter Kelly. These two always have a funny line to add to a conversation. Kelly is a senior in high school and the third Leary child to come on an Austin Smiles trip. Even though she is a non-medical volunteer you can find her in the OR scrubbed in and helping her dad by handling instruments. Dr. Leary has been coming on these trips for 15 years!

Dr. Leary

Dr. Leary and Kelly Leary talking to the nurses at the post-op nursing station.

Mary Fasschnacht (RN – Triage, Post-Op)
The other half of the bilingual Triage nurse duo! This is Mary’s 3rd Austin Smiles. She heard about Austin Smiles from Leilani back in 2004, when they both worked in the panda unit (apparently that is the post op area, nothing to do with the cute, cuddly animal). After her first trip she took a hiatus of 10 yrs to “live her life” which included going back to school to become an RN. Mary came as a translator on her first trip (she learned Spanish in Ecuador as a member of the Peace Corp) and has come as an RN on her last two trips. According to Mary, coming as an RN is the most fun. Her joy is evident as she runs around taking vitals, speaking to parents, bouncing babies, and covering the kids in stickers as they wait in the triage area.


Mary entertaining a patient with a balloon animal while he waits to be called up for surgery.

Carolina Taylor (Translator) and Terry Taylor (CRNA)
No one speaks Spanish more beautifully or makes a better balloon animal (or flower) than Carolina. This is her second trip. She first heard about Austin Smiles from her husband who asked her if she would be interested going on a trip like this. Carolina thought about it and said, “Sure – it’s Guatemala!”. She tells me that at first you notice the dirt and smells, but once you start sitting with the parents and holding the babies, you can see the appreciation in their eyes and feel the gratitude in their hugs. The first trip felt so rewarding that they immediately decided to start saving for the next trip – and here they are!

Carolina with her balloon animal creations.

Carolina with her balloon animal creations.

Dr. Lauren Crawford (Plastic Surgeon)
The plastics community in Austin is a tight one so it was inevitable that Dr. Crawford heard about Austin Smiles from her colleagues. She is a wealth of knowledge and has answered countless questions (mostly mine) about the technical details of the work that the surgeons are doing this week. You can find her operating away in OR 1 with Dr. Turner.

Dr. Crawford bringing a patient down after the operation.

Dr. Crawford bringing a patient down after the operation.

And those are just some of the great volunteers. We have an assortment of plastic surgeons, doctors, nurses, surgical techs, anesthesiologists, and non-medical volunteers all pitching in to make this week a success.

Signing off on Day 3 –  I’ll be back with patient stories tomorrow!

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

$250 covers the cost of one life-changing surgery

150 volunteers annually will change a child’s life forever

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