Creating Smiles, Improving Lives

Guatemala City – October 18, 2016

(Story by Lauren Holcomb and Photography by Leslie Spencer)


Day two of surgery is coming to a close and I can’t stop thinking about my morning that started off in the operating room. I stepped in just in time to watch Dr. Crawford finish up stitches on the cleft palate of baby Derek, and then stayed while he woke up from anesthesia, crying, fighting, and taking some time to control his breathing. While I was near tears after seeing him wake up and hearing his cries, I was surprised at how excited his medical team was as well. It really shows how invested they are in each child and the quality of care provided by Austin Smiles.

There are two stories that stick out in my mind from today that really illustrate just how incredible Austin Smiles is. First I’ll tell you about Angel who is a two-year-old from Guatemala City.



(Two-year-old Angel)


I came across Angel and his mom, Mirza, in the hallway outside their room while they were waiting for surgery. Angel has big thoughtful eyes that followed us around wherever we went, but he wouldn’t talk to us. After chatting with Mirza we found out that he is here to have a cleft palate repaired after having his lip done last year with Austin Smiles. We asked why he was so quiet and calm and she laughed and told us that his twin Oscar is at home, and if he was here, they’d be running up and down the halls. She also said that unlike his twin, Angel has never spoken a word and mostly grunts or points at things. This is the result of having a cleft lip and palate and both the surgery last year and today will make speech possible. Austin Smiles repeatedly travels to Guatemala each year for this reason – to ensure that patients receive all the surgeries they need, no matter how many years it takes.



(Mirza hands off Angel for his surgery)


Like Angel, many children with cleft palates and lips have very little or no speech. This brings me to my next story, which is that of our speech therapists, Kiera and Vanessa.

This is Kiera and Vanessa’s first trip with Austin Smiles and they are working with several children this week who came to triage day but could not benefit from surgery. You’ll see in the photo below that they are working with eight-year-old Izly and her mother, and giving them exercises to do at home. Izly has speech difficulties because her soft palate doesn’t move like it’s supposed to so she talks in nasal speech, and sometimes drinking is difficult with liquids coming out through her nose.





(Izly takes a break from therapy to play with the nurse puppet)


The other little girl below is Caterine and she has met with Kiera and Vanessa twice already and will be back again tomorrow. It shows how dedicated the mother is to helping her daughter that she would make the time to travel here and spend hours each day working with them. It’s amazing that Austin Smiles can provide speech therapy on the mission trip, and deliver additional support beyond surgery.



(Kiera and Caterine after her therapy session)


The day was full of life-changing surgeries, one of which is included below. We’re half-way through the trip and I’m looking forward to bringing you more stories tomorrow!



(Eight-month-old Emelyn’s picture before and after surgery)

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

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