The Mölnlycke Health Care blog

Volunteering with Operation Smile in Guatemala

By : Mats Ekström, November 5 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 missions. Employees Sarah Launer and Mats Ekström participated in an Operation Smile mission to Guatemala. Here are their stories.

Part two: Volunteer Mats Ekström writes about her participation on Operation Smile mission

Thursday 8 October

Mats Ekström next to boxes of Biogel surgical glovesWe got back to the hotel after the first day of screening, which was done at a semi-outdoor theatre. I got a feeling on the surface that it was chaotic but under the surface it was well-organized and everything ran smoothly. All in all more than 100 children were met with and evaluated but how many of them will undergo surgery is yet to be seen. Very rewarding to be part of a volunteer mission with everybody being there for the same purpose: to restore children's smiles.

The language barrier was definitely a problem but putting on a smile gets you a long way. The Mölnlycke Health Care teddy bears and Sarah's koalas were both huge successes. We spent a lot of time playing with the kids and supporting the photographer by distracting the not-always-so-happy kids...

Friday 9 October

Just back after the second and last day of screening. 141 children enrolled today so, in total, 248 potential patients, ranging from three days to 21 years old. A pretty good outcome!

A lot of emotions today to see those young kids with dual cleft palates and the difficulties that creates, e.g. feeding. But perhaps even more heartbreaking is seeing teenagers who have grown up with different kinds of facial deformities and imagine what they have gone through. What makes this a little sad is that the babies are highest priority if there’s a shortage of operating time.

Today I used my administrative skills, supporting with filing names. This was not easy since in Guatemala they have three or four first and second names that are not very easy to spell, especially for a Swede who doesn't speak a word of Spanish!.

Saturday 10 October

We had a great team day in Antigua. Antigua is a colonial city that was destroyed in an earthquake in 1773, and a lot of ruins remain from that time. Antigua used to be the capital city of Central America.

Tomorrow we will start the pre-op work, which means unpacking and sorting all the medical supplies to get everything set up for the surgeries that start on Monday. All the families will also start coming in today.

Sunday 11 October

Today we got to the hospital where the surgeries will take place – a Catholic children's hospital. I didn't expect a state-of-the-art facility, but I thought at least that the operating rooms would have a controlled environment, but it was just simple sliding doors to the rooms. We have access to three rooms: two bigger where there will be two beds. In total we can do five surgeries in parallel. The smallest operating room had no air conditioning, so they start to drill two holes through the wall to install AC, and the entire room was filled with dust. Naturally this made me think about how well we control our own production facilities compared with this. A lot of unpacking was done and I supported with carrying boxes from the storage room to the pre-op, O.R.s and post-op areas. I can tell you, there are a lot of medical supplies required. It was a tough job but someone had to do it.

Monday 12 October

Operation Smile volunteers Sarah Launer and Mats Ekström holding a baby with a repaired cleft palateToday we started to change children's lives by bringing back their smiles! Around 20 surgeries were completed and I got to see two of them. It was fascinating to see how these small faces were re-arranged. I had brought our own scrubs and they fitted perfectly and comfortably!

Interesting to reflect that all the preparations the Operation Smile organization and all the volunteers had done in the months and days before the screening came down to this moment where it all has to come together and work. The most rewarding moment was in the recovery room, seeing the mothers' reactions when they got to see their children for the first time after the surgery. Imagine that moment.

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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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