Creating Smiles, Improving Lives

Guatemala City – October 20, 2016

(Story by Lauren Holcomb and Photography by Leslie Spencer)


The 2016 Guatemala mission is coming to an end today with our last day of surgeries. The most exciting part of all the work that we do here is giving a baby or child back to the mother after the surgery. To help you understand how this works I have to explain how the hospital is laid out. Downstairs are all the patient rooms, two families per room. When it’s time for surgery a mother will hand off her baby to a nurse at the end of the hallway and watch while they step in the elevator and head upstairs to the operating rooms. The mother will then wait in a wheelchair to receive her baby after surgery, and she doesn’t see the results until the baby is placed in her lap. Of course it’s emotional for the mother, but also for our volunteers who bring the baby downstairs. It’s hard to grasp the significance of the moment in a photo, but I hope you can get some sense of it in the pictures below.






Since it’s the last day of our mission in Guatemala, I want to share the stories of a few children that captured our hearts today.



Wender is a seven-month-old baby from Peten, which is in the northernmost part of Guatemala. His mom seemed reluctant to talk to us at first, which seems to be the reaction from most families that we’re visiting with. I know it’s an anxious setting, being in a hospital, sharing a room with another family that you don’t know, and waiting hours for your surgery time. On top of that the babies are hungry because they’re not allowed to eat before surgery. All this to say that I feel bad asking a lot of questions, especially working through a translator.


Wender was quietly awake in his mother’s arms and we asked if he’s always this good and she smiled and said no, he’s a very mischievous baby. She learned about Austin Smiles from the newspaper and made the trek to Guatemala City so that Wender could get his lip repaired. She’s hopeful that Wender will be able to eat solid foods after his surgery, which may be difficult because he also has a cleft palate. You can see Wender’s mischievous grin below along with Dr. Myers and the team that worked on him.



(Wender has a laugh with his mom before surgery)



(The Austin Smiles Team from OR 2: Tasha, April, Dr. Myers, and Steve)



Benjamin is only three days away from his first birthday and he’ll have a brand new smile for the celebration! One of three brothers, Benjamin has both a cleft lip and palate and his mom, Angelica, is planning to bring him back next year so that he can also get his palate repaired. She heard about Austin Smiles from the newspaper and this is the first time he’s seen a physician for his lip. It’s mind-blowing to stop and think about the healthcare disparities between the US and Guatemala, but thankfully he is in fantastic hands here with Dr. Teichgraeber, Dr. Lin and their entire team.



(Benjamin before and after his cleft lip repair)



(The Austin Smiles Team from OR 3: Dr. Graham, Sandy, Dr. Teichgraeber, deLorme, and Dr. Lin)



Baby girl Caroline is a six-month-old that lives with her mom, Cinthia, and Grandfather here in Guatemala City. I actually met them after surgery and Cinthia said that she had lots of emotions- worry leading up to the operation and then overwhelming relief and happiness when she got her back. She found out that Caroline had a cleft lip during her pregnancy and understandably felt shocked and depressed until she was born, but then she was relieved that she didn’t have a cleft palate as well. Caroline is typically a playful, laughing baby who likes to be tickled and now she has a new smile thanks to her surgeons, Dr. Beckham and Dr. Crawford.



(Caroline before and after her cleft lip repair)



(The Austin Smiles Team from OR 1: Neha, Carol, Terry, Dr. Crawford, Cameron, Dr. Beckham, and Dr. Zapata)


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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