When Isaiah was born 4 months ago with a severe cleft lip, the staff in the maternity ward informed his mother, Maria, that Austin Smiles might be able to help him during the scheduled trip to El Salvador in June.
She had hope.
Maria and her baby Isaiah live more than hour away from the military hospital in San Salvador. She decided it was important for her to bring him to have surgery – “I want him to be like all the other kids.” Maria’s sister accompanied them to San Salvador. She shared, “Others in the community are not necessarily supportive of her – but I see the love that she has for him… I love her and want to be here to support her in her time of need.”
Maria and Isaiah arrive for pre-op triage at 6 a.m. with the 10 other patients for the day. Triage feels a bit like “organized chaos” but quickly the medical volunteers and support team find a rhythm – taking vitals, probing anxious parents about their child’s medical history, taking and printing photos for medical charts, and making name tags, all with conversations flowing in a chorus of English and Spanish.
Once Isaiah is cleared for surgery, Maria, her sister, and Isaiah are escorted upstairs to wait in a long quiet hallway until the anesthesia and surgical team is ready to begin. Maria cradles Isaiah gently, soothing his hungry cries, occasionally wiping a tear from her eye, worry reflected in her face.
As the youngest, Isaiah will be Austin Smiles’ first patient this week. Soon the OR 2 Team is prepped and ready. Anesthesiologist Michael Lin and Surgeons John Teichgraeber (“Dr. T”) & Jacqueline Wegge reassure Maria as they gently carry Isaiah to the operating room. As the doors close, Maria quietly weeps.
Maria patiently waits in the hallway that is growing quite crowded as other patients and their families arrive to wait for surgeries scheduled for the 3 Operating Rooms throughout the day. Hours pass. Maria does not leave her seat, stoically waiting, occasionally wiping a tear. Her sister sits silently beside her.
Finally, Dr. T comes through the doors and asks for Isaiah’s mother. She approaches him anxiously. With a warm smile, he gently touches her shoulder and said “It’s bueno. Isaiah is muy guapo!” With the support of 2 volunteer translators from the Rotary Club, Dr. T carefully explains that Isaiah has a stent in his nose and he will need to return to the hospital to have it removed. Isaiah’s incision is closed with stitches and skin glue that will dissolve and Maria should use neosporin on it. He explains that Isaiah has arm boards secured on each arm that he will need to wear for 3-4 weeks to keep his hands out of his mouth. Maria listens intently, nodding without speaking. Tears once again glisten in her eyes as she nods her head. Dr. T smiles and assures her, “Everything went well – Be very happy!”
But still Maria must wait as Isaiah is transitioned to PACU Recovery from the OR. There RN’s Daira Wilson, Kimberly & Jennifer Zachary get instructions from the surgical team and quickly swarm Isaiah as he is transferred to their care, comforting him with both their touch and words as he awakens from the anesthesia.
Maria continues to wait in the same seat in the hallway until he is ready to be moved a final time to Post-Op. While reassured he has had a successful surgery, the look of concern on Maria’s face is evidence that until she holds her baby and sees his face, she won’t believe it.
For Isaiah, recovery takes longer than expected. Outside, Maria waits patiently – never questioning, but clearly longing to be with her son.
Finally – Isaiah is stable and ready to transition to Post-Op where Maria can finally hold him.
As she cradles Isaiah, gazing at his face, silently yet again, tears fall – but this time tears of joy and disbelief …
“He’s really beautiful!”
It’s time for Maria and Isaiah to go home to share and celebrate his beautiful new smile.
Isaiah’s story is just the first of many children and families whose lives are being transformed this week by Austin Smiles in El Salvador.
Thanks to Photographer Pam Hults for the amazing photos.