One of the best parts of working in the plastic surgery industry is the opportunity to put smiles on patient’s faces. Whether it’s the woman that finally has the curves she’s always wanted after breast augmentation or the patient whose hard work through diet and exercise can be enjoyed after post-bariatric surgery, we love the happy smiles of our satisfied patients. That’s one reason why our recent mission trip to Guatamala was so fulfilling. We worked with Austin Smiles and the Shalom Foundation to provide surgery for children with cleft lip and/or palate deformities. This trip was special because we were literally helping some children to smile for the first time.
Guatemala- A Country Deeply Affected by Poverty
Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in our hemisphere with more than half of the population living in poverty. Many children go hungry and 54% of those under five suffer from stunted growth due to chronic malnutrition. This is the highest percentage in all of Central America and the third highest percentage in the world. It was difficult for us to tell how old most of the children were because they were significantly smaller than U.S. children their same age secondary to malnutrition.
Many of the children that we helped arrived with their families, most traveling long distances to arrive at the surgical center. The entire family would stay the night, including siblings, and in the morning the Moore Pediatric Center would provide breakfast. The meal was simple, just cereal poured into large bowls that many would eat from at the same time, but everyone would devour it, almost like they had never eaten cereal before. We even had one little boy that eagerly attempted to eat soup right after surgery. It seemed that he was so hungry that the pain of the spoon against his lip didn’t even matter.
Huge Sacrifices by Families to Bring this Opportunity to Their Child
We were touched by the sacrifices that parents and families made to bring their children to the Moore Pediatric Center. One woman traveled for two days so her child could be evaluated for a palate fistula. Her daughter had undergone cleft palate repair previously and had unfortunately developed a fistula. This mother carried her young daughter on her back as they walked for two days down a dirt road from their remote Guatemalan village. Once they arrived in the city they rode a crowded bus for another four hours. It was raining during much of this mother’s walk, leading her to develop a cold (that’s why she’s wearing a medical mask), and we actually had to arrange medical attention for her.
Changing Lives- Both Theirs and Ours
This trip was certainly life changing, not just for the patients we saw, but also for each of us working in that operating room. Although the trip lasted only a week, it opened our eyes once again to the miracles that plastic surgery can create. It isn’t just about making things more beautiful, although that is a wonderful part, but it is also about helping people regain their confidence, correcting problems caused by genetics, disease, or accident, and bringing new life into each patient.