Creating Smiles, Improving Lives

Guatemala City – October 19, 2016

(Story by Lauren Holcomb and Photography by Leslie Spencer)


It’s the afternoon of day three, the sun is shining after a rainy morning and we’re starting the last surgeries of the day. The past two evenings have ended after 7pm, which makes for a long 12-hour day, made much longer for our surgeons and nurses who are on their feet all of that time. Despite the long days the entire Austin Smiles team is in good spirits and I think that’s pretty remarkable. It’s a testament to the dedication and sense of service that exists in each volunteer on this mission. I also want to emphasize how inviting and warm the volunteers are on our team, especially towards those of us who don’t have any medical training.


Today I’d like to spotlight one group of volunteers- our amazing PACU (post anesthesia care unit) nurses. The PACU is where the babies and children head to after finishing surgery and the nurses take over their care while they wake up from the anesthesia. I’ve had the chance to follow a baby from the operating room into the PACU and at first it’s very peaceful and actually quite touching because you get to see the amazing surgical results.


The hard part starts when the baby or child wakes up. Imagine waking up after surgery in pain and numb, disoriented, your arms stuck in splints, surrounded by people you’ve never seen and hooked up to a bunch of wires. Some wake up and just cry, but others scream and thrash around while trying to figure out what’s going on. That’s when our amazing nurses really shine- holding, rocking and soothing the babies until they’re awake enough to go back to their mothers. During this time the team is also providing oxygen, monitoring vitals and ensuring that the patients are reaching all recovery milestones before leaving.

Three of our PACU nurses, Heather, Jennifer and Kim work in pediatrics at home, but Cece and Laura work with adults so this is a bit outside their wheelhouse. You would never know though, the entire team is full of competence and compassion and we’re so lucky to have them on board. We have 10 patients scheduled for our last day of surgery on Thursday and I’ll be back to sharing those stories with you tomorrow!




(Jennifer give oxygen to a baby recovering in the PACU room)



(Cece and one of her patients)



(PACU nurse, Laura and OR nurse, Sandy)



(The PACU nurses receive an intubation training)

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

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