Creating Smiles, Improving Lives

Guatemala City – October 16, 2016

(Story by Lauren Holcomb and Photography by Leslie Spencer)


The 2016 Guatemala Mission has officially kicked off with triage day! Four vans with almost 40 volunteers left our hotel at 6:45am today and headed to the Moore Pediatric Surgery Center. My head is spinning from a full day of evaluations with hundreds of babies, children and parents crowded into every nook of the hospital. Below is a recap of day one:


The Moore Center staff runs this station, gathering basic information if we don’t already have it and checking vitals such as temperature and blood pressure. Many patients are brand new to the Austin Smiles team, but some have been treated before and are here for the next phase of surgery, such as fixing a cleft palate after the lip was repaired last year.


Below you’ll see a photo of all five surgeons evaluating a baby boy and determining that yes, he will have surgery this week! After a quick examination of the baby or child, the team discusses how long the surgery will take and puts the patient on the schedule.




In the picture below, one of our anesthesiologists, Jeff, is examining baby girl Kayla who has a bilateral cleft lip. I could tell that her mom was understandably very nervous after finding out that her baby would be put under anesthesia for the surgery.



Ear, Nose, and Throat

Babies and children with cleft lips and palates often have ear infections and fluid buildup and most need tubes. The Austin Smiles mission in Guatemala is unique because the hospital has the microscope necessary to put tubes in, and the team brings along ENT surgeons as well. This means families don’t have to schedule two different surgeries and go under anesthesia twice. One of the ENT physicians, Sybo, is pictured below examining a baby boy who will also get tubes while getting his lip repaired this week.



Speech Therapy

The speech therapists below, Vanessa and Kiera, work with Anna, a nine-year-old who is having cleft palate surgery this week. Her ear drum ruptured the week before because of fluid build-up, which shows how complex these cases can be.



Social Work

Finally the patient signs consent forms and is scheduled for their surgery in the upcoming week. All patients stay one night, which means the parents have to also find a place to stay if they don’t live in Guatemala City.


Upstairs in the hospital the nursing and scrub tech teams unpacked the 20+ crates of medical supplies that we brought from Austin. The three operating rooms are ready to go for tomorrow morning, as is the recovery room.

The team evaluated close to 90 candidates today and will perform surgery on approximately 50 patients throughout the week. As I think about the day and all of the families that waited hours to be seen, I can’t help but think that so much can be done with so little. What I mean is that in just one hour, a family is evaluated by the surgery, anesthesiology, ENT, speech therapy and social work teams, and scheduled for surgery within a few days. Multiply this by 80+ families and it is astounding to think what it takes to accomplish this in the US and how much it costs.

I can’t help but also think about all of the Austin Smiles volunteers and how lucky I am to join the team for this mission. It takes a lot to make these missions possible and every single volunteer had to take off time from work and their families to be here. Their selflessness is inspiring.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, I can’t stop thinking about the families that I met today. I’m trying to imagine what it feels like for these parents; to bring your child to a hospital to which you’ve never been, to be treated by doctors and surgeons from another country that you’ve never met, and then to agree to let them perform surgery on your baby, all within a few hours. While I’ve realized that these parents are more trusting than anyone I know, I’ve also realized how desperate they are for their child to be healthy. The Austin Smiles team is going to make that happen over the next week and I look forward to sharing as many of those stories with you as possible. Stay tuned!








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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