Saturday, June 14 – Austin and Houston to San Salvador
Reuniting with old friends and meeting new ones at the airport for the Austin Smiles trip is fun, and a little easier when airport arrival is noon instead of 6am. We had a bit of a delay in Houston, so after customs, loading the equipment and supplies, the hour long bus ride, and hotel check-in, we did not get to our rooms until close to midnight, tired but excited to be here.
Sunday, June 15 – Triage and Move-in
Sunday morning, after a delicious Central American breakfast of tropical fruits, plantains, tamales, and pupusas, as well as eggs, cereal and pastries, we boarded the bus for the hospital at 8am. We arrived to find a large group of parents and children waiting to be seen. Most of them had arrived at 6am from the city of San Salvador and the surrounding areas by car, bus and taxi. Many had been here before. The treatments required to correct cleft lips and palates frequently require multiple surgeries over several years. The prospective patients ranged from just a few months old to teenagers and young adults.
Our hosts were from the Club Rotario San Salvador Cuscatlan (Rotary Club). Similar to Rotary Clubs in the US, they are professionals who volunteer in their spare time to contribute to their community. They brought some young people from their affiliate, Roteract, for 18-27 year olds. They helped carry supplies, provided translators, played with the children, and served us a tasty lunch of local fried chicken. I spoke with Rocio and Victor, a sister and brother who are students studying marketing and PR at two local universities. The Rotary Club also provides book bags and bicycles to rural and poor school children who sometimes walk 90 minutes to school, and offers agricultural consulting, bringing new technologies from around the world to local farmers via their partner Rotary clubs.
The triage team of surgeons examined every patient who came, with the help of a local translator. The Salvadoran media came to help us publicize our mission. Not all can be helped, given the facilities and resources we have available, but each was evaluated and advised.
After the children were selected for surgery, family physician Jill Grimes, anesthesiologist Angeline Sawicki and nurses Mary Umstattd and Laura Guerrero examined them to make sure that they were healthy enough for surgery. Mary’s daughter, Janey, is a nursing student who came to help as well.
The rest of the team, anesthesiologists, nurses and techs, were busy setting up the operating rooms and recovery rooms for action starting tomorrow. We enjoyed cold beverages on the way home thanks to Adam Sawicki, Elizabeth Stephens and Michael Frost who did a grocery run.
Surgeries start in the morning!