Today I had my heart broken and put back together by Melvin and his daughter Genesis. Melvin is a farmer. Genesis is 5 years old. She has never been to school because she cannot speak and the other kids just make fun of her. It is exceptionally difficult for a child of her age to learn to speak, even after a cleft palate repair, without intensive speech therapy, which is not readily available in rural Guatemala. Nevertheless, Melvin and his wife are dedicated parents and you can tell that they dearly love their daughter and they are getting as much assistance for Genesis as they can, as fast as they can. Melvin attended high school in Long Island. As a farmer, he has 3 cows from which he gets milk and makes cheese. This cheese he donates to the people in his community, because as he told us, “it is much better to give, than to receive.”

I would like you to meet Mike, below, one of our anesthesiologists on the trip. Before every operation, each child meets with every member of their team, the anesthesiologist, the surgeon, the pediatrician, and the speech pathologist (I hope I didn’t leave anyone out!).

Dr. Mike Johnston asked her if she had any questions at all. Later I told him how nice it was for her to reassure her. Mike replied how important it was to him to do this. That these parents come in and they don’t know us. We are all speaking a different language. It is challenging for them to ask questions. They only stay a couple of days and then we are gone. Mike has been with Rotaplast for 18 years and has done over 30 missions. Surgery on the airway can be risky. Mike is just one example of the amazing anesthesiologists, doctors and nurses that volunteer their time and skill. It also helps that Mike looks just a little bit like Santa.

Below is Sophia with our lead anesthesiologist, Dr. Arun Rama. (Actually, I am just hoping that if I type the anesthesiologist enough times, I will get it right on the next spelling bee). We like to silly-it-up right before the kids go into surgery to help relax. This is where Arun really excels.

Right before the kids go into surgery, we like to go into the pre-surgery room and talk to them, learn a little bit about them, what grade they are in, what their hobbies are, what they want to be when they grow up. It keeps them occupied for a little while and we become friends. We show each other pictures of our pets from our phones. So far I win. I have 3 dogs and 3 cats! Below is a picture of Alicia translating and writing for me (if you think I can’t spell in English, you should see my Spanish!) while I photograph. Kids are fascinating!

Finally, today, our amazing team did 18 surgeries today! So we are fading fast, so I am going to leave you with some gratuitous pictures of adorable kids who touched all our hearts today, my gift to you:


“Be so warm that people mistake you for the sun;

So bright that people mistake you for the stars;

And so accommodating that people mistake you for the universe”

Matshona Dhliwayo