About a month ago, 44 volunteers gathered for a pre-trip meeting at the Austin Smiles office. The room was full and buzzing with excitement that day. Forty four people of all ages and stages preparing for the Austin Smiles 41st Humanitarian Mission to El Salvador—plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists, a dentist, nurses, scrub techs, a speech pathologist, college students…. Some have been on as many as 24 of these missions, while others are going for the first time.
Martha Mashburn handed us each a blue folder that was impressively complete and well organized. It included our flight itinerary, contact info, printouts about the history and political landscape of El Salvador, insurance forms … there was even a yellow luggage tag with our name printed on it. Austin Smiles Executive Director Kendyl Richards led the meeting. Kendyl has an enthusiasm that is captivating and contagious. Her presence is commanding, yet nurturing. She knows her stuff. The directives for the mission are clear: no suitcases over 50 pounds, put your medicine in your carry-on, no short shorts or short skirts, no cleavage, leave some room in your suitcase for medical supplies, bring a little spending money (as of 2001, U.S. dollars are used in El Salvador), breakfast and lunch are provided, dinner is up to you… all said with a smile. She knows how to get people to listen and to want to work for her.
Then it was Dr. Jim Cullington’s turn to speak. Cullington, a.k.a. “the Ambassador,” is a defining force in the Austin Smiles organization. He is a founding member, board member, spokesperson, country representative, and plastic surgeon. This big bear of a man with a booming voice doesn’t need to stand to get our attention. He reminds us that this is serious business and admonishes us to BE ON TIME because the shuttle to and from the hospital WILL leave without us. He wants us to enjoy the experience and he knows that a sloppy mistake, like not following the schedule, can ruin it. We will be there for just one week and we want to help as many people as possible. Austin Smiles Medical Missions Director Leilani Brisano told me they will be running four operating rooms at the military hospital and plan to complete 60 to 80 procedures.
Leilani and Deborah Kirk, an Austin Smiles board member, arrived in El Salvador a couple days ago. They have been busy with public relations and briefing people on the logistics of the mission. Yesterday, Leilani did a live TV interview and a press conference at the military hospital. Today, she is scheduled to do four radio interviews and another TV interview. A big YAY for Lei!
The rest of us leave tomorrow! To all the volunteers, Buen viaje! And to the rest of you, stay tuned.