Mission to Guatemala
Planning the 2015 Developing Faces Mission to Guatemala started months before the actual trip. Nurses, surgeons and administrators needed to be scheduled. Flights and ground transportation all had to be mapped out. Expensive surgical supplies and instruments were needed for the mission trip. All had to be done within a tightly restricted budget, since we were working with donated funds. Generous donors made the entire mission possible. Developing Faces received donations from Stryker (a medical supply company) which greatly supported our surgical supply list. Build-a-bear donated 30 teddy bears to cheer up the patients. Generous friends, family, strangers and team members donated personal funds for the rest of the costs.
Kate Stoltz accompanied the mission as one of the two administrators on the trip. When the Developing Faces team arrived in Guatemala City, patients were already at Hospital Angeles waiting to be seen. Hospital Angeles had reached out to potential patients living in Guatemala through radio in anticipation of the mission. Patients with ear microtia, cleft lip and cleft palate were invited to come to the hospital to receive surgical care. People traveled from all over Guatemala to the hospital after hearing of the mission. Some patients walked for hours, others traveled by bus or car to get to Hospital Angeles. Karla and Kate (the two administrators) immediately started organizing patients, scheduling surgeries, and unpacking supplies while the nurses and surgeons started seeing patients.
Developing Faces had an overwhelming number of potential patients show up seeking surgical care. The team booked as many patients as the team could handle well for that week. Once the surgical calendar was fully booked, the remaining patients needed to be turned down. The contact information of all patients that did not receive care was documented so they could be contacted for surgery on the next Developing Faces mission. Every patient that received care was carefully documented and photographed for follow up visits on future missions.
Because of the dire need and vast number of cases, all of the Developing Faces team members were committed to doing as much as possible during the short week. Developing Faces performed 28 complicated surgeries during the one week mission in Guatemala. After surgery, patients were kept in the hospital where they received the proper after care by the Developing Faces nurses and surgeons. The entire team worked hard, waking up at 5am and working until 8 or 9pm each evening.
The reason why surgical missions to developing countries are so important is because access to surgical care is very limited there. Babies born in the USA usually receive surgery within a couple of months if they are born with cleft lip or palate. The USA has made these types of surgeries accessible to almost everyone, including low income citizens. Meanwhile, babies born in developing countries often do not receive the care they need. First of all, access to highly trained surgeons is limited. Patients often need to travel to a different country to get surgical help. Most of the patient's parents do not have the kind of income to support a surgery, especially one that needs to be done in another country.
Many cases of ear microtia, cleft palate and cleft lip are left untreated because of the lack of funds and access to surgical care. Ear microtia is an undeveloped ear. The ear does not form properly. Cleft lip and cleft palate are another type of deformity, which happens when the tissues of the face do not join properly. Microtia, cleft lip and cleft palate occur in the first six to eight weeks of pregnancy.
The mission was an enormous success. The gratitude from the patients and the patient's parents made all the long hours and hard work worthwhile. The team returned home feeling humbled and even more determined to continue the mission. To get involved, click on the Developing Faces logo: