“Hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into a reality.” ~ Jonas Salk
Cameras flashed and there were welcoming embraces from our hosts this morning as our team of 42 Austin Smiles volunteers arrived at the hospital for the first visit. The overwhelming celebrity-style welcome from hospital staff and our hosts – the Club Rotario San Salvador Cuscatlan (Rotary Club) was evidence of the success of prior visits and the anticipation of our arrival. We also caught our first glimpse of the dozens of hopeful families lining the walkway, waiting for our team to get to work.
After a brief tour of the work areas (triage, OR, PACU/Recovery Room and Post-Op), Dr. Pat Beckham, one of Austin Smiles’ Founding Surgeons, gave a welcome and thoughtful reminder that the “Team” this week includes all those here, and the many friends, families, and donors in Austin who have made it possible for us to spend this week in El Salvador changing lives. With that, Dr. Beckham led us back to the families and prospective patients for evaluation and triage by our surgeons, anesthesiologists, dentist and speech pathologist. Meanwhile, nurses, surgical techs, and others were busy setting up equipment and supplies in the operating rooms and recovery rooms for use tomorrow.
Most of the families had arrived as early as 6 a.m. in anticipation of the day. Some are from San Salvador, but many traveled from outlying cities for the opportunity to be helped by Austin Smiles. With the help of volunteer translators, the triage team of surgeons examined every single patient here for help. The prospective patients included infants and young adults, some were new patients to be met and evaluated, other patients had already had one or more surgeries and are here again for the next step in a series of procedures to address complex issues. Not everyone will receive surgery on this trip (Trip 43), but each patient is evaluated and advised individually, perhaps to return when a child is older or as his or her needs change.
Our volunteers are struck by the patience and sometimes stoic looks as families wait, and wait, and wait for their turn. Some children enjoy a small toy or pass time playing patty-cake, and others sit and watch and wait. Smiles are universal communication as our volunteers tried to talk with those waiting, and all of them are very patient with our limited Spanish. (Gracias!)
As families wait their turn, hope is reflected in the eyes of each parent. There a mix of anxiety and anticipation as the doctors approach each family. The parents watch closely as their child is examined, and listen intently to the doctor’s recommendation. Then there are smiles and tears, looks of relief and concern which need no translation.
Gradually the large groups shrinks – to one side our Speech Pathologist Alisa Baron is gently drawing sounds from a young girl to evaluate her, adding a few tickles here and there. Dentist Tom Sentz is called upon frequently to evaluate needs that can be addressed without surgery. Anesthesiologists take the surgical patients inside for further evaluation to make sure they are healthy for surgery.
One highlight of the morning is a visit from Angelica and her parents Felix and Margarita! Angelica had surgery in Austin, and they have come to greet us and for a follow up check in with Dr. Harshbarger, who continues to regularly monitor her progress.
All in all, this day is about hope – the hope of the parents who bring their children for evaluation and care, the hope of our dedicated medical staff that they can use their gifts to change the lives of the children who live with such limited resources, the hope of our non-medical volunteers to contribute in any way that benefits the mission of the team – from playing with a child, to grocery shopping, to distributing cool water bottles. As RN Kimberly Zachary summed it up, “My hope is that everyone, every facet of this team, works together and does their job to change lives.”
Check back tomorrow to meet the children and families we will touch this week and the first day of surgeries!