Before I end the posts from this mission, I want to give an update on Hector. You may recall that he was profiled when Rotaplast was last in Pereira in July 2011. Hector has had eight surgeries to correct his cleft lip and palate with the last two, including yesterday's, provided by Rotaplast.
Hector has now completed dental school and is a practicing dentist who has also volunteered with Rotaplast during the last two mission. He's considering furthering his studies to become an orthodontist so he can help children with clefts, both in Colombia and abroad. His mom, Maria, is very proud of Hector.
The mission is winding down; we saw our last patient today. Tonight
we'll celebrate the success of the mission, hosted by our friends of
Club Rotario Perla del Otún, Distrito 4280. I am looking forward to
presenting my video slide show. We'll relive the emotions of the last 10
days and see the results of our talented team in the new smiles from
both the patients and their families.
We have requested that all
patients return to the hospital tomorrow morning for our final clinic.
Doctors will review their progress and, based on experiences from
previous missions, there will be hugs aplenty and probably a few tears
as we also say our good byes.
An afternoon tropical cloudburst is raucously bouncing off the fiberglass patio cover outside my hotel room. Warm, humid days and nights are not how we typically experience mid-winter. Participating on a Rotaplast mission is an opportunity to leave the usual behind, working selflessly in service to others.
The reward is experiencing the intense, heartfelt appreciation from a parent who knows that their beloved child will now have opportunities they never thought possible. A surgeon told me this morning that a mother approached him following the operation on her child. She reached out, took his hands in hers and kissed them. So goes another Rotaplast mission.
Dr. Carlos Hoyos, a plastic surgeon from Pereira working with the team is interviewed at the opening clinic.
It's a big event when Rotaplast comes into a town, especially when a team returns for the six time as in Pereira, Colombia. Local and regional newspaper and television reporters are here daily checking on the progress of the mission and getting new angles on local stories.
Dr. Al Goldberg, pediatrician, takes a break to read one of several articles published about the mission.
The local organizing Rotarians of District 4280 also use newspaper stories to publicize the arrival of the Rotaplast team to help assure that all children who could benefit from our mission are aware of the location and dates.
Mission Director Orlando Arce is interviewed for television news
The same reporter is back for more stories with Dr. CK Park, anesthesiologist
Once again, Wrap-A-Smile has generously donated a colorful, handmade quilt for each Rotaplast patient. Since 2001, international quilters have been crafting and donating quilts to provide a loving touch for children and their families as a project of the Rotary Club of Wells, Maine.
Rotaplast volunteers love opening the box and selecting a unique design for appropriate for each patient. As the kids are dressed into a hospital gown to await their surgery in the pre-op area, moms and dads are given a quilt to wrap their children.
It's a warm cover for what can be a chilling experience for a child about to be taken from their parents to surgery.
Teen and adult patients certainly appreciate their usefulness to cover the open backside of the hospital gowns as they walk down the hall.
The quilts stay with them, brightening their covering on the surgical table and enveloping them as they wake from anesthesia into the arms of their parents. They are a family keepsake to remind them of the life-changing care from Rotaplast.
Rotaplast volunteers have also filled their suitcases with a variety of stuffed animals, toys, colorful hair clips, coloring books and more to create a friendly, caring environment. Stuffed Snoopys donated by Met Life never fail to calm an anxious child.
Gustavo is a confident young man of 21 who was born with a
cleft lip and palate. His mother, Maria, talked of her past working with her
husband on a citrus plantation. They lived on the farm next to the location
where pesticides were mixed. She recalled often feeling dizzy when doing
laundry outside as the pesticides were handled. Runoff from the fields drained into a
creek that led to a pond where they caught fish.
Environmental contamination is a known cause of cleft lip and palate birth
defects. Maria’s first child, a daughter, was born
without incident. However, after Gustavo was born six years later, she
consulted with medical experts and she is convinced that the pesticide exposure
was the cause of his clefts. She is glad that some of the pesticides that were used then are now
When Gustavo was a child he had four surgeries to repair his
lip and palate. His mother also took him to a speech therapist three times a week. Early and extensive intervention, coupled with Gustavo’s strong self-esteem
spared him the difficulties many children experience integrating with their peers in
Gustavo still needed more medical attention. Fundación
Sonríe, based in Pereira, maintains a database of children with clefts and
tracks their treatment. They contacted his family when Rotaplast first came to
Pereira and he had a fistula repair. That is a common surgery to close a hole
in the palate that sometimes occurs following an initial cleft palate repair.
Gustavo’s upper jaw was still recessed and on a previous
Rotaplast mission, it was advanced forward. Yesterday, through the specialized
surgical procedures offered by Rotaplast, he had an additional procedure to
further advance the jaw.
Gustavo currently works with his aunt selling merchandise while
he attends a technical institute for a pharmaceutical career. He also enjoys playing fútbol with a local club. Maria and
Jessica, his girlfriend, were keeping him company as he awaited discharge from
Even though friends told Maria that Gustavo would never
speak, she was persistent. With his dedicated family, supportive girlfriend and
Rotaplast, Gustavo now has a much brighter future.
We just passed the halfway point of the mission and the pre-op area, operating rooms, recovery room and patient ward are abuzz with activity. Our local hosts have set up a break room where they provide us with fine Colombian coffee, juicy tropical fruits, pastries and three-course savory hot lunches to keep our energy topped up.
Surgical teams rotate in between patients for lunch or a much deserved brief rest. Some of these complex surgeries can last five hours or longer. By this time in the mission all 24 members have settled into their routines. Our first few days of patients have gone home with improved opportunities for greater success in their lives.
Here is how we looked this morning as we left the hotel at 6:30 am, ready for another day of saving smiles and changing lives. And, in no particular order, an environmental portrait of each team member as they perform their respective duties. With an impressive collective total of 250 Rotaplast missions among us, we are an awesome team for maximum effectiveness.
Juan Diego is turning two tomorrow and our Rotaplast team gave him a birthday present that will change his life forever. Betty is Juan Diego's foster mom. Pereira-based Fundación Sonríe invited her to bring Juan Diego to our mission to correct his cleft lip. In another year he will be ready to have his cleft palate repaired. She is very thankful for the amazing work of Rotaplast.
Betty, whose husband is a nurse, quit her teaching job to devote herself to caring for special needs and abused children. Over time she has given love to seven foster children and two of her own. Five months ago, Juan Diego came to her because his parents did not have the money to care for him.
Betty has become completely taken with Juan Diego and is interested in caring for more kids with clefts. She wants to show that children with clefts are just like other kids. "I like my job, it's about dedication and patience."
Juan Diego and Betty were already waiting at the hospital when the Rotaplast team arrived at 6:30 am. Here is how the day progressed.
Dr. Albert Goldberg, pediatrician, reviews Juan Diego's medical exam information that was gathered at the pre-op clinic.
He then explains exactly what the procedure will entail and what Betty should expect when she sees him after the surgery in the PACU (post anesthesia care unit).
Ward coordinator, Ellen Boesner, marks Juan Diego's arm with his name and medical chart number for positive patient identification. He is then dressed in a hospital gown.
Dr. Ron Gemberling will be performing the surgery. He checks in with Betty and Juan Diego to provide more explanation and to make a caring connection before he is taken into the operating room by the anesthesiologist.
Even knowing that your baby is receiving the best care available, it's still a nervous moment when he disappears behind the door. Local volunteers, Mariana Giraldo and Alejandra Fonseca reassure and comfort Betty. Nevertheless, it's a very emotional moment.
Juan Diego's cleft was closed by bringing together the two sides of his upper lip, over his premaxilla, the protuberance in the front of his upper jaw. Dr. John Lee monitors the anesthesia.
Juan Diego is still asleep when Betty comes into the recovery room. A kiss from mom is the first order of business.
Mom and dad keep some oxygen flowing in front of Juan Diego as he slowly emerges from the anesthesia.
Happy Birthday, "Peluza!" Anderson is celebrating his second birthday today at Hospital San Jorge. Some kids are just too cute for words but with his bowl-shaped haircut his parents have an affectionate nickname for him, Peluza, translated as dust bunny. Shortly after Peluza was born, his parents noticed that he didn't have a complete palate. The immediate result for a child born with a cleft palate is difficulty nursing. They cannot develop the pressure needed for sucking and liquid will flow from their mouth out through their nose.
Peluza had his first surgery a year ago but it was not successful. Patients must be healthy on surgery day and he came in this morning with congestion. Fortunately, there will be time to reschedule him for a later day in the mission once he clears up. Unfortunately though, it's a two-hour bus ride each way to the hospital for Peluza and his parents. We are looking forward to seeing him again.
Jose is back for his second operation from Rotaplast. With our maxillofacial specilists on this mission, he will have bone taken from his hip and grafted to his jaw to created a more natural look. Jose was fortunate to have had surgery at an early age to repair his cleft lip and palate. However, a complete closure of his palate was not achieved, leaving him with very nasal speech. An all too common story for children with clefts is suffering the bullying from their school-age peers. Jose could only stand it until the 8th grade. He works now as the supervisor for a delivery service.
Jose was accompanied by his mother and he told me his is looking forward to having better speech and a nicer smile. Rotaplast is good at saving smiles and changing lives.
Monica was born with a deficiency of soft tissue in her nose, making it difficult to breathe. She has had two previous surgeries at 15 and 17 years old where cartilage was taken from her ear to reshape her nose. Now, at 22, she is her with her boyfriend of five years for further improvement. Monica also talked of being laughed at in school. With help from Rotaplast, she is looking forward to a boost in self-confidence and "to be prettier."