Creating Smiles, Improving Lives

Guatemala City – October 17, 2016

(Story by Lauren Holcomb and Photography by Leslie Spencer)


The sun was barely up this morning when we loaded the vans and left for the hospital at 6:30 for the first day of surgeries. It’s easy to forget what day it is here, but we quickly figured out that it was a bustling Monday morning in Guatemala City. Upon arrival at the hospital the medical team headed upstairs while the rest of us visited with families in the waiting room. Before getting started, Dr. Lauren Crawford told me about a Mayan mother and baby that she met yesterday and said that I just had to meet them. A short while later I heard the same thing from Carolina, our fabulous translator.

The story of how they got here is truly incredible. To give you some context, the mother, Maura, is Mayan and she speaks a Mayan dialect and does not speak Spanish. Her friend, Elena, traveled with her to serve as a translator and only speaks this Mayan dialect and Spanish. Carolina speaks Spanish and English, and then there’s me, I only speak English. Asking a question went like this: me to Carolina to Elena to Maura, and then the answer went from Maura to Elena to Carolina to me- talk about lost in translation!

Maura and her family live in a village far from Guatemala City and they make their living by growing corn. Maura has a husband and four children and her last baby, Andres, was born 10 months ago with a bilateral cleft lip. Maura, Elena and baby Andres had to travel for a day-and-a-half to get to Guatemala City- they left their village at 5:00am on Saturday and arrived just in time for triage day yesterday. To get here, they walked, rode a ferry, walked across another river, boarded a bus, took another boat, rode another bus and finally arrived. They are staying in a home run by a group of nuns.




After the journey they are understandably tired, but you would have never known that. We asked Maura how she was feeling about the surgery and she said that she’s really worried and nervous to have to watch her baby go through the operation- she didn’t know that parents wait downstairs. She also asked questions about her baby going to sleep- Carolina tried to explain how anesthesia works and that seemed to make her feel better. Overall I still can’t wrap my head around the level of trust that these families have for the Austin Smiles surgeons, but they are in great hands.

Maura told us about an older man in her village that had a cleft lip and everyone was afraid of him; people aren’t afraid of Andres, but she said that they don’t want to look at him, which is just so heartbreaking. Andres is ten months old and hasn’t eaten any food yet because of the complications from his cleft lip. For so many reasons this surgery will be truly life changing.




I feel so lucky to have been able to watch part of Andres’ surgery with Dr. Teichgraeber and Dr. Lin. They spent nearly three hours repairing his lip while his mom and translator sat nervously in the waiting room the entire time. I’ll admit that even I was nervous and stayed until the very end as he was our last patient to come out after 7:00pm. You’ll see the amazing results in the photos below, and it was a great way to end our first day of surgeries.





(Dr. Lin explains that the surgery was successful to Elena, who then translates the news to Maura)



(Maura and baby Andres after the surgery)


I wish I could share with you the story of every single baby and child that we operate on this week because they are all remarkable. I talked to one of our volunteer nurses, Carol Hamilton, on the first day at the airport and she said that the trip will “feed your soul,” and I can’t think of a better way to describe it.



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

Austin Smiles - local services Camp Amigo photo

Medical Mission Trips

Austin Smiles goes on 2-3 medical mission trips annually

Austin Smiles - local services spring picnic photo

Our Local Services

Our local program support for children born with Cleft Lip and Palate in Texas

Austin Smiles - local services sponsor locally photo

Sponsor a Child

Make a difference for a child in need