The dominant emotion today was hope. As the sun was rising, 180 children and their families were waiting when we arrived at the hospital Centro Medico Militar in Guatemala City. Those families were motivated by the desire to make their children’s lives better with cleft lip and palate surgeries. Tonight, as the Rotaplast volunteers retire to our hotel, there is another group of children and parents who are contemplating surgeries tomorrow, with all the hope, fear and uncertainty that goes with surgery.
Rotaplast missions occasionally have real adventures with local customs officials, and this trip proved to be a classic example of that. Last night when our team arrived with 35 boxes of equipment, supplies and medications, the local officials decided to hold it all at the airport. The rationale was variously expressed as a prohibition on importing medications, lack of proper paperwork, and failure to pay a 5% tax on imports. Nine boxes holding durable medical equipment as well as one box of narcotics and medicine were held at the airport. About half of our boxes were delivered this morning, and we are hoping for more deliveries tonight. The only permanent loss appears to be the meds, which we may have to buy from our host hospital. We are all hoping this does not delay the start of our surgeries on Wednesday.
One ritual of most Rotaplast missions is the welcoming inaugural–when the host Rotarians and hospital welcome the Rotaplast volunteer team. This was a moving inaugural. The highlight: a former patient of Rotaplast, who told us he was embarrassed to attend school, and in the first grade was ashamed to show his face in public. When he was seven years old, he underwent a cleft lip repair when Rotaplast made a trip to Guatemala. He told us that this operation changed his life, and he now aspires to be a dentist.
This first full day of the mission is known as clinic day. The basic purpose of the clinic is to determine which patients are eligible for surgery and which are not. This requires evaluation by pediatricians, surgeons, anesthesiologists, the dentist, and speech pathologist. All children who will proceed to surgery receive a “before” picture to set the context for the “after” one. Some of the kids are natural hams for the camera giving high-fives and fist bumps after the photos are snapped; others are frightened and crying. More than a few are seeing a digital picture of themselves for the first time in their lives. When the surgery schedule for the first few days was announced by Paola Ferraté the overwhelming emotion was hope.
Please visit for more photos and more information about the team members.