This is a day of great hope for the parents and children who have traveled great distances to Oaxaca in order to be evaluated by the surgeons, pediatricians, anesthesiologists, the dentist and speech pathologists. The medical team has the difficult task of deciding who will receive surgery and who will not.  Barring the child having heart or lung problems, the test of whether the child should proceed to surgery is “10-10-10.” The children must be at least 10 weeks old, weigh at least 10 pounds, and have a hemoglobin level of at least 10. Most of the parents and children have traveled long distances to have an opportunity for this life-changing surgery.

One example of the determination shown by these families is Ruben and his parents.  Ruben is six-years-old and lives in a small town outside of Oaxaca. Ruben came to the clinic with his father and mother. The family traveled for four hours on a bus, followed by two hours of walking to arrive at the clinic.  Ruben’s father appeared to have a sight impairment, but nonetheless supports his eight children as a farm worker. A government worker told Ruben’s father of the Rotaplast Mission.

And another example is Erick, an eighteen-month-old toddler, who arrived with his mother and grandmother after a five hour van ride.  They left their home in darkness in order to arrive at the clinic by 9 a.m. This little family did not know where they would sleep tonight; we told them about the pink house. However, the grandmother said that she and her family were grateful simply to have arrived at the clinic.   They are praying that Erick will in fact have corrective cleft palate surgery.

One of the touching episodes of the day involved Miguel Angel, a shy, handsome four-year-old boy.  Miguel first had his picture taken – part of the standard practice for all Rotaplast patients of having “before” and “after” pictures.  After his own photo was taken, Miguel stayed and watched the photo team take pictures of each new patient, including pictures of the inside of the mouth of those patients with palate problems.  After Miguel had watched the process several times, he began silently volunteering to help.  He began by removing the photos from the printer, then progressed to putting the photo in the file and passing it to one of the adult team members.  By the end of the clinic day, Miguel had been appointed as a certified photographer’s assistant, even helping the team to pack away its supplies.  Miguel never spoke a word, but he earned the gratitude of all. Overall, it was a highly successful opening clinic day, with over 100 patients screened–far more than expected.  For the Rotaplast team, the day was chaotic, energizing, and full of the many small emotional vignettes that make these missions so rewarding.  At the end of the day, the Rotaplast team joined our hosts, Rotario Guelaguetza, for their weekly meeting.  We witnessed an informative program about two cutting-edge projects in Oaxaca: one (Trechamos Una Mano, or “we give you a hand”) involving building simple houses out of recycled materials; and the other involving a group home for independent living of persons with mental handicaps.  Then, to a serenade of lively Mariachi music (click the group photo below), the Rotaplast volunteers were surprised to received gifts from our hosts: a beautiful certificate framed in the hand-punched tin, a box of local chocolates, and a personalized bottle of Mezcal. (Many of the volunteers were surprised to find a dead worm in their bottles.) In all, a very hopeful day with anticipation of the successful surgeries tomorrow.