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Volunteering with Operation Smile in Guatemala

By: Sarah Launer, November 3 2015Posted in: The Mölnlycke Health Care blog

As part of Mölnlycke Health Care's ongoing support for Operation Smile, a non-profit organization that provides free surgeries to repair cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities for children around the globe, Mölnlycke Health Care employees can volunteer to take part in Operation Smile (external link) missions. Employees Sarah Launer and Mats Ekström participated in an Operation Smile mission to Guatemala. Here are their stories.

Part one: Volunteer Sarah Launer writes about her participation on Operation Smile mission

Soon after we arrived in Guatemala, it was already time to begin patient screening. We left at 06:45 and screened 107 patients, followed by a similar screening day the next day. The main focus is, of course, screening more patients who will be eligible for surgery.

Sarah Launer pointing to a folded moving box she is holding

The first time I walked into the auditorium I was filled with the powerful feeling of wanting to cry. Being surrounded by people – families – so filled with hope boosted the emotional feeling of being there. Parents were sitting with their children, hoping for a better future for their kids, who laughed and played nearby. 

To see so many families with children who have cleft lips and palates was initially heartbreaking but by the end of the first day I realized the full measure of hope that was present. And I felt clearly that because of Operation Smile, these children can have brighter, more positive futures. Thanks to Operation Smile, these kids and families, some of whom travelled up to nine hours by bus, will have such gorgeous smiles and be able to lead normal lives without fear of people staring or some of the more clinical complications of cleft lip and palate conditions.

Friday 9 October

Today was the second day of screening, which was a smooth process. Today they screened 141 patients and it was just as emotional today seeing the families wishing for their children to be chosen for surgery.
Today I spent a lot of my day playing in the children’s area and speaking with other local Guatemalans. The hardest and most frustrating part of this journey is not being able to speak Spanish and talk with the children or families.

We attended a Catholic mass this morning, which blessed this Operation Smile mission. It’s still so amazing to see these volunteers from all over the world work tirelessly to make this mission a success. They have said that they have never had such an organized flow of patients through the separate stations.

Tomorrow is team day to Antigua. All of the volunteers are so friendly and lovely. This is a really amazing experience.

Sunday 11 October

Yesterday we had a full team day in Antigua with the volunteers. It was a wonderful day during which we have started forming close bonds with the volunteers who are from over 20 countries.

Today was spent at the O.R. and hospital set-up. It was all-hands on-deck to get the hospital ready for operation day tomorrow. They have been allocated three theatres, two with two operating tables and the third with one table. The theatres are something that you can imagine back in the 1950s. They even had to drill two big holes through the third operating theatre wall to install air conditioning before tomorrow.

Unfortunately I fell sick last night and had to have two bags of IV fluids in the recovery area today. The team doctor and volunteer nurses looked after me so well. I can’t explain or express how amazing and giving these volunteers are. Mats and I have really been included and looked after as though we were one of the team.

Tomorrow is the first day in the operating theatre and we will be very lucky to be included and to follow some of the kids through the theatre and recovery process.

This is the recovery area. Prior to set-up they didn't have any machines, or any monitoring equipment. This was all brought in by the Operation Smile team. Also all of the consumables were brought in by Operation Smile.

A hospital bed in the recovery area

This is the O.R. prior to set-up. They had to fit two operating tables in this room!

Operating room with one operating table

This is the man who had to make holes through the thick concrete walls to get air conditioning in the third theatre.

Man making holes in the concrete walls of the hosptial

Operation Smile had to go out and purchase a brand new air conditioning unit and they will leave it installed after they're finished.

Air conditioning unit mounted on the wall

Monday 12 October

Today 21 surgeries took place. The kids looked totally transformed after their surgeries. What an incredible journey to be part of. We really are so humbled to be part of this experience!

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The surgical and wound care environment is always changing. The Mölnlycke Health Care blog addresses topics and trends in surgery and wound care. Among these topics are efficiency, health economy, infection control and patient safety. Read more about this blog and how to comment.

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