Seven-month-old Genesis was full of joy and energy throughout Operation Smile’s November 2019 medical mission to Quito, Ecuador. But as a mother, Sandra still remembers the fear she felt on the day she saw her daughter’s smile for the first time.
Having never learned about Genesis’ cleft condition from her prenatal ultrasound, Sandra cried in shock at seeing her baby. She’d never met anyone with a cleft before. And before Sandra could even take Genesis home to figure out what her next step would be, she was faced with another unforeseen obstacle. In addition to having a cleft lip and palate, Genesis spent seven days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) weighing only five pounds as a result of being born prematurely.
However, during their time in the hospital, Sandra met a neonatologist who shared information about Operation Smile Ecuador and the surgeries it provides children like Genesis. A few days later, he returned and told Sandra that he’d arranged an appointment for Genesis to meet with the organization. While fearful and worried about her child staying in the NICU, the doctor's news quickly filled Sandra with newfound hope. Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli.
With a devoted community of volunteers who donate their skills, time and compassion to its mission, Operation Smile establishes a reputation for delivering surgical excellence and providing high-quality patient care on a global scale.
During the mission in Quito, post-operative nurse Cari Martin of the U.S., pictured above, joined the team of local and international volunteers – representing countries including Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Spain, Italy, Sweden and Finland – to help patients and their families feel safe and comforted throughout every step of the mission process. Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli.
Once all members of the volunteer team arrived at IESS Quito Sur Hospital, screening day began with more than 130 patients receiving comprehensive health evaluations. Medical professionals checked potential patients' blood pressure and vitals to ensure that they were healthy enough to receive safe surgery.
The conclusion of screening day resulted in 80 children learning that they were placed on the surgical schedule. Above, those families are seen asking questions and receiving instructions for admission into the hospital. Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli.
Volunteer pediatrician Dr. Elaine Kennedy of the U.S. examines Genesis during screening day. After receiving her comprehensive health evaluation, Genesis became one of the 80 children scheduled to receive a new smile.
Witnessing the care and attention that the medical volunteers provided every patient and their family during the mission wasn’t anything new for Sandra. A week after being released from the NICU, Genesis and her family traveled two hours to one of Operation Smile’s care centers in Quito where she received her first comprehensive health evaluation from medical volunteers. While Genesis continued to thrive and grow stronger from the ongoing support, Sandra also enjoyed the opportunity to meet and talk with other mothers of children living with cleft conditions.
For the next six months leading up to the November mission, Sandra brought Genesis to the care center to receive annual check-ups and be fitted for an infant obturator, which is designed to make feeding easier and minimize the severity of the cleft palate. Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli.
Five-month-old Amaia receives a kiss from her mother, Tania, during the mission. While Tania learned that she was having twins during a prenatal ultrasound, she wasn’t told that one of her twins would be born with a cleft lip. After she gave birth, doctors immediately took both children away to a different hospital without even allowing Tania one look at her new babies. The next day, feelings of guilt and grief overcame her when she saw Amaia’s cleft lip. Not knowing that cleft conditions can be the result of environmental or hereditary factors, she began to question what she’d done to cause this.
After learning about Operation Smile Ecuador, Tania traveled with Amaia for seven hours every 15 days to reach the care center in Quito. While Amaia’s birth was hard, she’s adored by the entire family, and everyone felt incredibly happy when her name was called for surgery. Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli.
A team of Operation Smile medical volunteers observe as surgeons repair a patient's smile. Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli.
Volunteer cleft surgeon Dr. Nicola Freda of Italy performs surgery on a patient during Operation Smile’s mission in Quito, Ecuador. From Nov. 26 to Nov. 30, patients arrived at IESS Quito Sur Hospital and received the highest quality of surgical care from volunteer medical professionals. Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli.
Sandra felt anxious when the time came for Genesis to enter the operating room and receive her new smile. But once her daughter was placed safety back into her loving arms, she had a message for the people who’d been by her side throughout the entire journey. “Thank you very much Operation Smile,” she said.
The family is scheduled to return later this year for Genesis to receive cleft palate surgery. Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli.
Post-anesthesia care unit nurse Magnus Backstrom of Sweden checks on a patient as they recover after surgery. Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli.
Three-month-old Kendrick is surrounded with love as he recovers after surgery. The worries his parents, Julio and Tania, felt at his birth are distant memories as they look at their son’s beautiful new smile.
“Thank you very much,” Tania said. “I am so happy!” Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli.