All in all my first surgical mission with Operation Smile to Tegucigalpa, Honduras was an amazing success. I was apart of such a well organized team and we were able to impact 144 lives and families providing free surgeries over 4 1/2 days. This was a site record. Best of all, Op Smile provides speech therapy, follow up care and many other social and medical services to patients.
It was a mind opening experience. I was able to practice medicine the way it should be practiced…caring only about patient needs without the bureaucratic baggage that is a hallmark of US medicine. It was a thrill to provide high quality anesthesia care while working with talented plastic surgeons from South Africa, New Jersey, Brazil and Italy given the conditions.
I worked in the center operating room table in one room that had three total OR beds and was truly unprepared for such an undertaking. The team does not use a ventilator, morphine and most of the modern comforts of anesthesia care that I am accustomed to at the University of Pennsylvania. Initially it felt like a challenge of providing care while standing on one leg with one arm tied behind my back. To add to this difficulty level, we were working with children- and lest you be mistaken, children are not little adults. I fully attribute my safe delivery of anesthesia to my teammates who helped me overcome the incredibly steep learning curve in a short period of time.
The real heroes of the trip are the families that care so much for their sons and daughters that they are willing to go through incredible lengths to find care for cleft lip, cleft palate and other developmental abnormalities and trust the lives of their precious kids to unknown medical volunteers.
I was touched by 5 year old Carlos who helped soothe deathly frightened children waiting for their surgery in the preop child play area by handing out stickers and hugs.
Everyone was inspired by the Alvarez family who live in a remote village and sold the family cow so they can afford the two day trip by horse, canoe and bus to seek care for the overgrown frenulum, the tissue under the tongue that was inhibiting breast feeding efforts for their four month old.
There was also Alexandra who had been denied care for the past three years due to excessive demand. Fearing another heartbreak, her mom still returned to the mission site anyway. It was so inspiring to see her reaction when we announced that we would repair her daughter’s cleft palate.
I still can’t believe an organization like this exists in the world. Our team worked tirelessly and I drew energy from volunteers who dedicate their lives to this type of service.
A mission like this costs an estimated $250,000. It is not a small price tag but the result of our work lasts through the lives of these children. If you feel the compulsion to give to a cause that will absolutely make a difference, please donate on my fundraising page. Click here,