Creating Smiles, Improving Lives


Today was filled with many firsts: our first day of surgery on this mission, the first time I wear scrubs for something other than painting and cleaning, the first time I get to see my husband perform surgery, and the first day I arrive early to get on the bus. You guessed it, the bus is late. So we take a cab. The driver asks if we want to go to the “new” or “old” hospital. Since Austin Smiles has been going to the same hospital for more than 20 years, we say “old.” Our cabby has an interesting way of maneuvering through the streets, sometimes even choosing the wrong side of the street! I am in the front but manage to be a backseat driver anyway. After several gasps and near misses we finally arrive… to the wrong hospital! Yes, the hospital we’ve been working at, the one with the chipped paint and rusty tables is the “new” hospital. About fifteen minutes later we rush into the old “new” hospital.

I see Maria, the eight-year old girl I posted a photo of yesterday, sobbing in her father’s arms. My throat clenches and I start to cry. First case of the day and I’m already crying. Maria is probably the best-case scenario of all the patients we’ll see. She is healthy and from an educated, seemingly affluent, loving family. Even so, my son is eight and I know how terrified and worried I would be sending him into surgery. Unfortunately, there are no meds available to calm Maria’s nerves and she is very scared.


Dr. Lima talks to her about friends and tells her how pretty she is. Soon, she calms down. Then Maria is taken to the operating room and Drs. Wadwa and Biebas put her to sleep without a hitch. Her cleft lip/palate was repaired years ago and now she’s getting an alveolar bone graft so her teeth can grow in properly.

I watch Steve Miley and circulating nurse Andrew O’Brien get things ready. Setting up for surgery is a painstaking process. Everything looks so orderly and perfect and that makes my head fill with catastrophic “what ifs.” What if I knock over the instrument table? What if I trip and unplug the ventilator? What if I bump the surgeon’s arm at a critical moment? Yet, I still feel more comfortable in the OR than I expected.

The surgeon is wearing a scrub hat, gown, gloves, mask, a headlight, and loupes (magnifying glasses). If my husband were in the room, I’d never know it. I almost forget he’s here, except when he tells me to get closer so he can show me what he’s doing, explaining with medical jargon that I pretend to understand.


Drs. Lima and Harshbarger work at the same time on different parts of the body. Dr. Lima harvests some soft bony tissue from Maria’s hip and Dr. Harshbarger grafts it onto an area on the upper jaw. The surgery takes about two hours and it goes very well.


Once the incisions are closed and the breathing tube is removed, Maria is taken to the Recovery Room, where the nurses take exceptional care of her.


Maria’s parents have waited patiently and now they finally get to see their daughter.


Maria five hours post-op, recovering in the upstairs ward.

There were about fourteen surgeries performed today—four cleft lip repairs, two cleft palate repairs, a fused toe separation, a jaw distraction, an alveolar bone graft, a frenulectomy (tongue-tie surgery), a carpal tunnel release and a few others I’m forgetting. I could write a book. It’s late, though. Tomorrow I will focus on cleft lip and palate patients. Below is a preview of what’s to come. Stay tuned.

ImageBaby Allison before surgery.

ImageBaby Allison after Dr. Snyder performed a bilateral cleft lip repair.

ImageBaby Cecia before her unilateral cleft lip repair.

ImageCecia in Recovery Room with nurse Daira.

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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