Our first day began bright and early at 7am. We arrived at the hospital, again by military escort, and came to see the entire courtyard filled with families, children, grandparents, anyone and everyone that could come to see the 'American Doctors'. By the end of the day, we had evaluated over 150 patients and selected 65 to perform restorative cleft palate procedures on. UNIMA had spread the word of our arrival to outlying villages through radio, flyers, and word of mouth. Each family spent great time, effort, and monies to reach us. One particular child, Anibal Jose, and his family were so desperate to seek our medical services, that they walked over two hours from their remote village to the nearest town, then travelled 7 hours by bus, only to manage making it to the hospital a whole day after all of the prospective surgical candidates had already been selected. Not only did his story warm our hearts, but also his cleft defect was very significant, so we had to add him onto our OR schedule.
The operative days have been long and gruelling--7am to 10 pm but very rewarding. Danilo is a high school student who has a severe cleft defect that has affected his speech. He is a very bright student, which has earned him high honors. However, his applications to local universities have been met with disdain--his speech impairment is viewed as a cognitive defect--admission deans see him as mentally slow and he is denied admission to every college in his town. Yet his ambition prevails. He vows that he will pursue his dream of higher education--and comes to us for surgical correction of his physically limiting cleft palate--to show the world that he will be able to speak normally, communicate effectively, and gain entrance into a premier university. Yesterday, on post-op rounds, the team is elated to see Danilo doing well and able to speak like he has never spoken before--he, his mother, and the surgeons exchange tears and hugs and hope for his future.